Russell Downing admits it is all in the head for how he finishes the second half of his first Grand Tour.
The 32-year-old from Thurcroft, Rotherham, has worked his way to the Giro d’Italia with flagship British racers Team Sky after a strong domestic career.
Downing was rewarded with a Sky contract after winning the 2009 Tour of Ireland and has performed well in races at home and across the continent since joining them.
But the Giro is a step up in class. A solid start to the race, which saw him play a lead role in keeping team-mate Thomas Lovkvist high up the general classification standings, has been followed by a tough few days.
A head cold slowed his progress on the Giro’s toughest day, an undulating ride from Tortoreto Lido to Castelfidardo inland from the Italian Adriatic coast.
However, speaking to The Star, Downing said he now feels as good as ever and can’t wait to pit his wits against the best riders in the world over the Dolomites and Alps during the second half of the 21-stage race.
He said: “It has been pretty hard going with my cold. I’m heading into unchartered waters really because the longest race I’ve done is 14 stages and a normal one is about 10. I’m feeling a lot better now, though.
“I’ve been looking through the profiles of the stages to come and it all looks pretty hard. We go back-to-back from stage 13 to 15 over some tough mountains.
“It’s just a case of doing my job early and then getting in with a group who can get each other over the top. A lot of it is mental now. Just to keep going and make sure I get to the finish.”
The Giro is one of three Grand Tours of cycling, France and Spain being the others. A berth in the Sky team for the Tour de France in July would be the pinnacle of Downing’s career, but he says he can’t afford to look further ahead than the Italian and Austrian mountains:
“I’m not even thinking about it (Tour de France). I’ve a job to do in the Giro and I’m looking forward to having a well-earned break after it.”
After yesterday’s flat stage won by Mark Cavendish, today takes the riders 167km from Spilimbergo in Italy to Grossglockner, the highest mountain in Austria, on a climb of 2,100 metres.