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Giro d'Italia: Bradley Wiggins still in touch after dramatic day in the hills

Victory went to Italy's veteran Luca Paolini

A theoretically quiet stage on the Giro d'Italia exploded into life on a seemingly inoffensive late climb on Monday when the 2012 winner Ryder Hesjedal launched a dramatic series of attacks which resulted in the major contenders coming to the fore, including Sir Bradley Wiggins.

Victory went to Italy's veteran Luca Paolini, who sheered off the front of the shattered peloton on the twisting drop into Marina di Ascea, and who seized the overall lead in the process thanks to his solo victory.

In the greater scheme of things, though, given that Katusha is not considered a major contender – and is in fact riding his first Giro d'Italia at the ripe old age of 36 – Paolini's ousting of Sky's Salvatore Puccio as race leader is unlikely to have much significance.

Of more interest, though, was who finished in the 16-man group behind him: second across the line, 16 seconds back, was Hesjedal, with Australia's Cadel Evans, the 2011 Tour winner, bouncing back from Sunday's disappointing team time trial to claim the third place and valuable bonus seconds.

Wiggins, eighth on the stage, showed he was doing anything but sleeping on his laurels following Sky's spectacular team time trial win on Sunday. The Briton responded in person when Hesjedal charged away seven kilometres from the summit of the apparently insignificant Sella di Catona climb, while the Italian contender Vincenzo Nibali – third in last year's Tour – missed out on the nine-man attack completely.

Nibali's Astana squad wiped out the move in just a few kilometres, but it was the first indication this year of how the Giro is rightly famous for being a race where surprises can occur at any point in the event. That Wiggins was alert enough to spot the potential danger is a sign of just how focused he is on the race – more so, it seems, than Italy's top favourite.

Given Nibali finally finished in the same group of top contenders as Wiggins, his missing out on what could have been a key break for the Giro was little more than a loss of face. However, for Michele Scarponi, the 2011 winner, a nasty crash on the descent caused a rather more important loss of around 45 seconds.

Barring a major crash or illness, though, most of the time lost or gained in the first week is relatively minor and serves more as psychological warfare rather than real damage. As Britain's Charly Wegelius, directing Hesjedal in the Garmin-Sharp squad, colourfully describes it: "It's like shadow-boxing".

And if Wiggins came out looking strong in Sunday's team time trial, yesterday it was Hejsedal who scored the most points off his fellow contenders, proving that when the quietly spoken Canadian says he is even stronger than when he took a superb surprise victory in 2012, he means it.

"I felt there was an opportunity today. You can get something out of it everyday," Hesjedal told reporters. "It's better to be up front." And on today's 246km (154-mile) stage through yet more rolling southern Italian terrain, there will be plenty of opportunities for Hesjedal to try the same tactics again.

Overall standings

1 Luca Paolini (Ita) Katusha 9:04:32

2 Bradley Wiggins (GB) Sky +17"

3 Rigoberto Uran (Col) Sky

4 Benat Intxausti (Spa) Movistar +26

5 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana +31

6 Valerio Agnoli (Ita) Astana

7 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin-Sharp +34

8 Giampaolo Caruso (Ita) Katusha +36

9 Yury Trofimov (Rus) Katusha

10 Sergio Luis Henao (Col) Sky +37