NAPLES, Italy (AP) — In terms of big titles, Bradley Wiggins far outshines Giro d'Italia rival Vincenzo Nibali. It's just the opposite for the two men who will be guiding the riders in the team cars when the three-week race begins Saturday.
Wiggins is the defending Tour de France champion and has won four Olympic gold medals — three in track cycling, plus the road time trial at last year's London Games.
Nibali's best achievement remains winning the 2010 Spanish Vuelta, which ranks third among the sport's three Grand Tours.
But Wiggins' team director with Sky, 38-year-old Marcus Ljungqvist, is a relative newcomer to the job, while 58-year-old Giuseppe Martinelli of Astana is one of the most experienced men in the sport.
Martinelli has guided the likes of Marco Pantani, Stefano Garzelli, Gilberto Simoni, Damiano Cunego and Alberto Contador to a total of six Grand Tour wins stretching back to Pantani's golden year of 1998 when the Italian won the Giro and Tour.
Ljungqvist, a former Swedish champion, has been working on the coaching side for just four years and this will be his first major Tour guiding Wiggins.
"We haven't worked that much together but we're all professionals and that's how this world works," Ljungqvist said in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday.
The difference in experience between Ljungqvist and Martinelli has affected the way their two star riders prepared for the Giro.
Wiggins examined nearly every key uphill finish in the race over the last several weeks while Nibali examined just two stages.
"We didn't go see that many," Martinelli told the AP. "But I know just about all of the roads."
With Wiggins expected to excel in the race's three time trials and Nibali likely to attack in the mountains, the race could come down to who has the stronger team.
"On paper, Sky is stronger than us," Martinelli said. "They're going to have to control more. We'll do what we can but Sky is definitely the strongest team."
Colombians Sergio Luis Henao Montoya and Rigoberto Uran Uran, who won the best young rider jersey in last year's Giro, will escort Wiggins in the mountains along with Kanstantsin Siutsou of Belarus, who won a mountain stage in last month's Giro del Trentino.
Dario Cataldo, an Italian who placed 12th in last year's Giro, will also be useful to Wiggins.
"We have a great team here and everyone is ready and things just need to fall in place," Ljungqvist said.
Nibali's key lieutenants are Italians Paolo Tiralongo and Fabio Aru and Fredrik Kessiakoff of Sweden. Tiralongo is a dependable 35-year-old veteran, Aru is a 22-year-old emerging climber and Kessiakoff is a former mountain biker.
Both teams have strong funding, with Sky an offspring of Rupert Murdoch's media empire and Astana supported by the Kazakhstan government and managed by former standout rider Alexandre Vinokourov.
So how does Nibali compare to the other standout riders Martinelli has guided?
"He's a bit of a mix of them all. But he's most similar to Pantani in his mental approach. He likes to improvise," Martinelli said, alluding to Nibali's tendency to attack not only on steep climbs but also on dangerous descents.
Martinelli would like nothing better than stopping Wiggins' bid for the rare Giro-Tour double, which the British rider has been talking about this week.
Only seven riders have won the Giro and Tour in the same year, including Wiggins' idol, Miguel Indurain. But nobody has accomplished the feat since Pantani 15 years ago.
"It has become more and more difficult to pull it off because the season has gotten longer," Martinelli said. "Although Wiggins has handled his start of this season well and he's one of the few riders now who could do it. But I hope he doesn't, because it would take away one of the last remaining accomplishments unmatched by Marco and by an Italian. We're hoping to stop him right here."
Pantani died from cocaine poisoning in 2004.
Wiggins was expected to help Chris Froome win the Tour this year but said before leaving for Italy that he might grab the team leadership in France himself and try to defend his title.
"There's a lot of things going on in the press but we're here to focus on the Giro and that's what we're going to do," Ljungqvist said. "And I'm sure that's what Brad is doing as well. Then we leave the rest for later."
Ljungqvist will not be Sky's team director at the Tour de France, where Nicolas Portal and Servais Knaven will handle the job.