Despite his troubled build-up and suspicions of doping, Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes) is still confident of winning the Giro d?Italia for a second consecutive year.

Speaking in a pre-race press conference on Friday with 2007 Tour de France winner Alberto Contador and Vuelta Espana winner Denis Menchov (Rabobank) on Friday, Di Luca (pictured right) made it clear he going to be aggressive during the Giro.

He refused to respond to questions from an Italian journalist Eugenio Capodacqua who takes an extremely severe line against doping and claimed he was as fit as in 2007 when he dominated the Giro.

?It?ll be difficult to win again. I?m satisfied with my form and my build up to the Giro. I think I?m in the same form as last year. Anything can happen in three weeks of racing but I think I?ve got the experience to avoid losing vital time during the three weeks.?

?I was never worried as I waited for the sentence in my doping hearing. Of course I was happy when the trial was over and I was cleared but I stayed focused on my training.?

Di Luca was naturally happy to claim the Giro will be a better and harder race than the Tour de France after being snubbed by the French race organizers.

?With riders like Contador and Menchov at the Giro there is no doubt this is now the best major stage race of the season,? he said.

?It?s also the toughest. Last year was definitely easier. The last week is packed with mountain stages. There?s the Pampeago, Marmolada, the Plan de Corones time trial, the Mortirolo. And the finish at Monte Pora. I know I can?t give anything away to my rivals and a moment of crisis could mean you lose the Giro.?

CONTADOR TO TAKE THINGS DAY BY DAY
Ever since Astana were given a last minute invitation to the Giro, Alberto Contador has naturally been named as a possible winner. However the 25 year-old Spaniard quickly played down his chances.

?I can?t predict how well I?m going to do and I don?t want to build-up anyone hopes. My forms not that good and this is an especially difficult race,? Contador said.

?I was on holiday when I was told I?d be riding. I won the Tour of the Basque Country in mid-April but I haven?t raced since because I?ve had some tooth problems. I trained as much as I could when we were invited but I?m not in the form I?d like to be. I?m going to take things day by day and see how I feel.?

imageAlberto Contador out training with his Astana team-mates prior to the opening time trial. Photo: Graham Watson

Contador made it clear he was not afraid of being questioned by Italian anti-doping investigators during the Giro and insisted he had no regrets about signing for Astana, even tough he will not be able to defend his Tour de France victory.

?When I signed with Astana my objective was to be at my best for the Tour de France. The Tour organisers decided they didn?t want the team in the race and that wasn?t good news for me,? he said.

?Things always happen for a reason and this year I was destined to ride the Giro d?Italia. It?s been a crazy season but I?m trying to get used to it. Of course I?d still like to ride the Tour de France but if I?m invited just a few days before the start like here at the Giro I don?t know if I?d ride. At the moment I?m planning my season without the Tour de France.?

The Giro kicks off on Saturday afternoon with the 23.6km team time trial around Palermo. Astana, CSC and Slipstream are favourites to win the stage and take the first pink jersey.

GIRO D’ITALIA 2008: NEWS
Bettini looking for final Giro glory
Astana’s troubled build-up to the Giro
Petacchi banned for Salbutamol positive
Yates and Astana make last minute rush to Giro

GIRO D’ITALIA 2008: FEATURES
Giro d’Italia 2008 preview
Giro d’Italia 2008: who will win?
Giro d’Italia 2008: The British are coming
Giro d’Italia on Eurosport: TV schedule