Pavel Sivakov has said the prospect of winning the Giro d’Italia is front and centre in his thinking.
Bernal’s back class as a former Tour de France winner has him as the favourite for the race, despite well-documented back concerns, but Sivakov is ready to strike out for victory should the opportunity present itself.
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"Of course I dream about the Maglia Rosa, otherwise I would not be here,” Sivakov said. “I'm here, I've got that somewhere in my mind.
"But Egan would not be here if he was not ready."
Bernal is looking to find his best form after a torrid 2020, but is unsure of his levels heading into the Giro which starts on Saturday.
In the absence of Tour champion Tadej Pogacar and runner-up Primoz Roglic, Bernal would normally be the hot favourite, but how his back responds to the brutal challenge of the Giro's punishing climbs is up for debate.
"I need to rediscover my condition and my confidence but it's a long process," Bernal told reporters on Thursday.
Other contenders include Briton Simon Yates, who had to pull out of the race following a positive test for Covid-19 last year and ended up a disappointing eighth overall in 2019 after proclaiming himself the favourite.
Double champion Vincenzo Nibali, who underwent wrist surgery three weeks ago, is hoping to add to his 2013 and 2016 titles. He finished seventh overall last year after showing his limitations in the high mountains.
Spain's Mikel Landa, last year's runner-up Jai Hindley of Australia, German Emanuel Buchmann, Briton Hugh Carthy, Russian Aleksandr Vlasov and Portugal's Joao Almeida will also have a fighting chance but according to Sivakov, who will prevail is a "million dollar question".
"It is really unpredictable. We've seen in the past years that some guys who lost a fair amount of time in the first week were able to bounce back in the final week, you don't see that on the Tour, it's really unpredictable," he said.
"It's a really open race."
Further adding to the unpredictability is the presence of Belgian prospect Remco Evenepoel.
Evenepoel, known as the "Baby Cannibal" in a reference to Belgian great Eddy Merckx, has returned to racing after eight months off the bike following a freak crash at the Giro di Lombardia for his much-awaited grand tour debut.
Evenepoel, 21, won all four second-tier stage races he took part in last season.
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With additional reporting from Reuters
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