Basso considered favorite heading into Giro d'Italia


LIEGE, Belgium -- Italy's Ivan Basso has attempted to play down the hype around him before the start
of the Giro d'Italia in Belgium on Saturday.

After finishing second behind Lance Armstrong in last year's
Tour de France, Basso is now considered the best stage-race
rider in cycling after the American's retirement and a hot
favorite for the Giro.

"I don't feel the No. 1 favorite but just one of
favorites," he said in a press conference on Friday. "I'd be pretentious to think I can win the time trial and
then defend the lead in the mountains.

"There is a group of four or five riders that are ready and
motivated to try and win the Giro. I'm one of them because I
know I've worked hard and we've got a strong team but I'm
relaxed about the next three weeks," he said.

Basso has constantly improved and developed as a rider since
joining the CSC team in 2004. He is now strong in both time
trials and in the mountains.

"There's been a steady progression in my ability over the
years and now I also have more confidence and believe in my own
ability," he said.

"I'm going to ride my own race in the next three weeks and
not get stressed out about my rivals because that burns your
brain out. This Giro is going to be hard for everyone and so may
the best man win," he said.

The Giro starts on with a 3.9-mile individual time trial in the southern Belgian town of Seraing. The race will then transfer to Italy on Wednesday for the remaining 17 stages, ending in Milan
on May 28.