Mark Cavendish is in the headlines in Italy just a few days before he makes his season debut at the Tour of Qatar.
Wednesday?s edition of the Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper has a full-page interview with the 23 year-old from the Isle of Man, confirming his status as the fastest sprinter in the peloton.
The Italian cycling tifosi loved how Cavendish won two stages at the Giro d?Italia last year and Gazzetta journalist Ciro Scognamiglio talked to him about his hopes and ambitions for 2009, his growing Lambretta collection and Italian sprint rivals Daniele Bennati and Alessandro Petacchi.
?I?m excited about the new season. I haven?t done much on the track in the last few months, I had a good break and so I was really motivated to get going again,? Cavendish said.
?I?m three kilos lighter. I?m starting off in Qatar and then I?ll go directly to the Tour of California. I?ll also ride the Eroica, then Tirreno-Adriatico and Milan-San Remo.?
?I didn?t finish the 2008 Tour de France but this year I want to get to Paris and the green points jersey is an objective. The Giro? Of course?I love Italy.?
When asked if he thinks he can win Milan-San Remo, Cav says wisely: ?Some time during my career yes. This year, I don?t know. But I want to learn without being under too much pressure.?
He also revealed he will study the final part of the race with Erik Zabel and then test himself in the cobbled classics in April.
?Erik has been the most consistently successful rider in the last few years and he won Milan-San Remo four times. I get on well with him and we?re going to study the Milan-San Remo route together.?
?I think I can handle the pave. I want to do well at Ghent-Wevelgem and ride Paris-Roubaix. It?s a legendary race.?
Cavendish confirmed he is looking for a house in Quarrata, close to where Max Sciandri and other British riders are based. He also revealed he has bought another Lambretta.
?Max is more than a friend and his partner Valentina is the best cook there is,? he says.
?I?ve recently bought my third Lambretta. It?s green like the points jersey at the Tour de France.?
Asked about Team Columbia?s anti doping stance, Cavendish said: ?It?s fantastic to be in a team where you don?t have to worry about anything except training and trying to win. We can look each other in the eyes with our heads held high.?
Gazzetta dello Sport asked Cavendish to comment on his main sprint rivals.
?Daniele Bennati is a really nice person and is very strong. I?m sure Petacchi will be competitive again and it?s good he managed to make a full recovery from his knee injury. Tom Boonen is always tough to beat and I?d like to have the mind of Robbie McEwen. Of course nobody is like Cipollini,? Cavendish said.
As a final question, Gazzetta asked Cavendish if he considers himself the best sprinter in the world. His reply was modest but subtley intelligent, reflecting his growing maturity and position as one of the biggest riders in professional cycling.
?Mmhhh. I?m not the best. Let?s say I?m the fastest,? he said.
Cavendish v Boonen. See our Tour of Qatar preview on this site on Thursday
Cycling Weekly will be in Qatar covering the race. Keep up to date with cyclingweekly.co.uk from Sunday.
Cavendish hopes for winning start in Qatar
Cycling Weekly’s all-time list of British pro winners Where does Cavendish rank?
Cavendish trains in Majorca
Mark Cavendish and Team Columbia training, January 2009, photo gallery