Wiggins to begin bid for rare Grand Tour double

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SIR Bradley Wiggins will begin his bid to cement his legendary status with victory in the Giro d’Italia, which starts in Naples today.

Ten years after making his Grand Tour debut at the Tour of Italy, Wiggins is the favourite for the pink jersey awarded to the race winner as he bids to add the Giro title to his 2012 Tour de France triumph.

“Ten years ago I was about to start my first Grand Tour,” Wiggins said. “It was daunting and it was a different era. The likes of (Mario) Cipollini were riding, (Marco) Pantani. Ten years on to be going there to try to win the thing, I’d never have imagined that ten years ago. It seemed so hard at the time. It’s worlds apart.

“It’s just a new challenge. I won the Tour last year and a lot of other races. I’ve never won the Giro. It’s something I’d love to add to my palmares [cycling CV] when I retire. I think it puts you into a different bracket of cyclist.”

The mention of Pantani prompts discussion of the double – an attempt at victory in the Giro and Tour in the same year.

Few have done it – seven, in fact, including Ireland’s Stephen Roche in 1987 – with Italian Pantani, whose life came to such a tragic end, the most recent to have achieved the feat, in 1998.

Wiggins’ stated aim is to win the Giro’s maglia rosa, then travel to Corsica five weeks later to begin the defence of the Tour’s yellow jersey – a subject which has sparked much conjecture this week, given his Team Sky colleague Chris Froome is also targeting the maillot jaune.

First Wiggins must win the Giro, which is no easy task on a 3,400-kilometre route, where his rivals include defending champion Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), who was third behind Wiggins and Froome at the 2012 Tour.

While Wiggins’ target is the maglia rosa in Brescia on 26 May, his former Team Sky colleague Mark Cavendish could take the first pink jersey of the race in Naples today. The prolific sprinter will lead Omega Pharma-QuickStep at the Giro, with stage wins and the points classification the aim.

The second day features a team time-trial, which could see the lead change hands, before a bumpy first week and the first long time-trial on the second Saturday.