Sir Bradley Wiggins’ hopes of becoming Britain’s first Giro d’Italia winner took a severe – though not definitive – setback when he skidded and crashed at high speed on a rain-soaked descent in the Abruzzo hills.
Delayed but not injured by the crash, the Sky rider crossed the line with an 84-second time loss on the other main favourites, and has dropped from sixth to 23rd overall. The cost, long-term, is brutally simple: Wiggins will have to turn in the ride of his life in today’s crucial long individual time trial if he is to stay in contention. And if the crash has taken a physical toll on him, it will in no way be easy to do that.
On the 177km stage – won by Australian Adam Hansen –through one of central Italy’s wildest regions, on poorly cambered roads rendered even more lethal by the first rainfall in weeks, the accidents were waiting to happen.
First of the top riders to hit the deck on a fast, sweeping descent towards the coastal finish in Pescara was Vincenzo Nibali. The Italian regained contact with the main group, but Wiggins – already in difficulty on a seemingly inoffensive minor ascent – was another story. On a right-hand, sweeping hairpin made perilous by gravel, some 6km from the finish, Wiggins’ wheels went from beneath him and he went spinning across the tarmac. Visibly shaken by the crash, but with Colombian team-mates Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Uran guiding him at the best speed they could through the teeming rain, Wiggins failed to regain contact with the main bunch.
The crash brought back memories of Wiggins’ high-speed accident in the 2011 Tour de France, when he broke his collarbone at the end of the first week. This time he was more fortunate, but his time loss is still a significant setback.
“It was very, very slippery and once you fall it takes you a bit of time to regain your composure,” Sky’s team principal, Dave Brailsford, said. “It’s not disastrous, I don’t think; it could have been a lot worse. There’s a lot of racing still to come and you’ve got to take your good days and bad days and add it all up at the end.
“It’s a long way from being over. Having crashed, he had to limit his losses and regain his composure, which I think he did.”
Brailsford recognised, though, that rather than Wiggins probably moving into a dominating position in today’s time trial – as was Sky’s plan – the race had dramatically changed and he would now have to dig deep psychologically as well as physically if he wanted to be in the leader’s pink jersey in Brescia on 26 May.
“It’s opened it up for the rivals,” Brailsford admitted. “In order to win stage races you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth and it’s all about how much balls he’s got, really. We’ve got to take it on, haven’t we? Let’s chase some other people down for a change, rather than have them chasing us.”
With new race leader Beñat Intxausti now leading Wiggins by 92 seconds, and all the top favourites ahead of him overall, the importance of today’s time trial in Sky’s game plan has now increased by several notches. But it also affects Wiggins’ race long-term. Rather than racing conservatively in the mountains, he will have to go on the attack.
Overall standings: After stage seven
1. B Intxausti (Sp) Movistar, 28:30:04
2. V Nibali (It) Astana +05”
3. R Hesjedal (Can) Garmin +08”
4. G Caruso (It) Katusha +10”
5. M Santambrogio (It) Vini +13”
6. C Evans (Aus) BMC +16”
7. R Gesink (Neth) Blanco +19”
8. I Santaromita (It) BMC +28”
9. P Weening (Neth) Orica +29”
10. R Kiserlovski (Cro) Radioshack +34”