TH E ROA D TO TA K E TO B E TH E N E X T B R A D LE Y W I G G I N S . . .
" LOO KS LI K E A FA I RG RO U N D WA LL O F D EATH R I D E" Descending skill was all on this stage, as it provided the winner, the Russian Maxim Belkov, who took advantage of the Vallombrosa descent to dislodge the other frontrunners from a 12-man escape that went clear early in the stage. The 28-year-old from Izhevsk rapidly opened a three-minute gap and hung on to continue the Katyusha team’s fine Giro. Hesjedal, on the other hand, was unable to cling on to what remained of the main field on the climb to Fiesole, and by the finish he lost more than a minute, which was a little embarrassing given the way his team had ridden on his behalf only a few kilometres earlier.So sharp a week ago, Hesjedal has had a nightmarish two days with his poor performance in Saturday’s time trial and is now 11th, over 3min behind Nibali. Wiggins was in trouble again on the descent from Fiesole but at least survived with his chances intact, although his race now depends on the weather and the state of his nerves.
The crash on a right-hand bend on the final descent into Pescara looked relatively innocuous but Sir Bradley Wiggins’s chances of winning the Giro d’Italia took a serious knock as the seventh stage reached a climax on Friday when the Tour de France winner lost almost 90 seconds on his main rivals, dropping from sixth to 23rd overall. Although his team principal, Sir Dave Brailsford, said Wiggins had no physical ill effects, he rode in looking stiff and bruised the day before the vital time trial where he intended to strike his first blow. It was a massive contrast to his seamless progress through the first week of last year’s Tour de France, where he rode his luck throughout. Momentum matters in a three-week Tour, and now he is swimming against the tide. Friday’s stage contained a rash of steep climbs towards the end, but it was the descents which really mattered as they were tackled in heavy rain. Cornering became a lottery – and many besides Wiggins drew losing tickets. Amid the chaos, the Australian Adam Hansen emerged unscathed to win the stage having attacked early on in the day’s main escape, then struck out alone in the final 20 kilometres. It was a fine win for a team worker who last year rode all three major Tours, Spain, Italy and France. Wiggins, who detests wet and cold conditions such as these, had not looked at his ease as the stage progressed, dropping behind on the later descents and appearing to become irritated
when the race television camera sat alongside him to capture his sufferings. He was already a little way behind the other overall contenders when he lost control on a tight right-hander during the descent from the final climb of the day, San Silvestro. The need to catch up probably played its part. He slid briefly, and was rapidly back on his bike, but he did not look comfortable. He took the remaining bends at a pace more befitting a cycle tourist and had to wait until the foot of the descent before receiving any help from his two team-mates, the Colombians Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Urán, who had himself had an awkward-looking tangle of wheels on a climb earlier on. Even then, Wiggins looked to be struggling to stay with the pair. The final phase of the stage was a matter of every man for himself, with the slithery descents making racing more a matter of survival. Behind Hansen, Nibali joined forces in a 30-man group with Cadel Evans of Australia – who looked very much at his ease in the dank, dicey conditions – and the defending Giro champion Ryder Hesjedal of Canada, in a small group that was largely propelled by the Blanco team-mates of the Dutch climber Robert Gesink. The Italian was lucky to be there, having slid for eight or 10 metres across a left-hand bend on the descent immediately before the San Silvestro climb as he attempted to catch Wiggins unawares. He too will be stiff and sore for Saturday’s time trial.
KEEP OFF THE GRASS ISSUE 54
After Monday’s rest day, there are 12 stages of the Giro d’Italia remaining. Bradley Wiggins will, one suspects, be looking closely at the weather forecast on a daily basis once the race transfers north to the big mountains. He looks to have completely lost his descending mojo once the roads become wet, and worse still, the other teams are clearly – and rightly – prepared to exploit what is not so much a chink in his armour as a yawning hole. If it is neither his tyres nor his bike, a call to the GB team “mind mechanic” Dr Steve Peters may be called for. Across Tuscany, the picture was the same as it had been on Friday in the Abruzzo: olive groves, pantiled villages, elegant churches, lashing rain, lowering mist, skid-pan corners and Wiggins descending like an old lady en route to communion. He slipped off the back of the peloton on the long series of bends off the Vallombrosa, the biggest mountain of the day, with 60km remaining to Florence, and the opposition scented an opportunity. Vincenzo Nibali, who would have been resplendent in the leader’s maglia rosa had it not been hidden beneath a rain cape, ordered his domestiques to set a hot pace on the front, where they were joined by Ryder Hesjedal’s Garmin-Sharp and Cadel Evans’s BMC. It was a perfectly legitimate move, and it forced Wiggins’ Sky team-mates into a roughly 20km chase that put him back in the field but will have sapped their legs and morale.
Wiggins competing in the tour de France.