The day produced a mixed bag of results for Team Sky in the Giro d'Italia, as Rigoberto Uran took a spectacular solo stage win and moved on to the provisional podium, while Sir Bradley Wiggins slid to more than two minutes behind the increasingly dominant overall leader Vincenzo Nibali of Italy.
The Londoner remains in contention and in fourth place overall, having lost 37 seconds to Nibali after struggling on the steepest segment of the final 21km climb to Altopiano del Montasio. He was far from the only favourite to lose time: 10th on the stage, Wiggins crossed the finish line ahead of two major contenders, the Netherlands' Robert Gesink and 2011 Giro winner Michele Scarponi.
But Wiggins' time gap to Nibali is verging dangerously close to irreversible. After a week of minor setbacks and time loss after time loss, with only his second place in Saturday's time trial reversing the trend, should the 2012 Tour de France winner suffer another defeat, even a minor one like today's, Wiggins' chance of victory will all but evaporate completely.
"If the win's perhaps a little bit beyond me now, then I'm still fighting 100 per cent to finish on the podium," Wiggins said. "I have a bit of a cold; it's just enough to take the edge off you on a stage like that. You have to be 100 per cent against Nibali and those guys. All in all, we won the stage and I limited my losses on probably the toughest finish in this year's Giro."
As Wiggins pointed out, Sky have emerged from a day of arduous climbing as the Giro's strongest squad, and the way they kept a high pace at the front for most of two major mountain climbs was highly reminiscent of their collective stranglehold on the climbs in last year's Tour. Only Colombian Sergio Henao was not on song, slumping from sixth overall to 12th.
But if Sky were in dominating mood for almost all of the 167km trek across the snow-capped Dolomites, Uran's charge away with 8km to go left Wiggins isolated in the main group of favourites when Nibali and the 2011 Tour winner Cadel Evans launched an all-out attack 4km from the finish – and the leadership question in Sky a blurry one.
"It depends how it plays out, really," Wiggins said when asked if he would now help Uran, ahead of him on classification by one second, to win outright. "I'll have to speak to Rigoberto tonight. He went all out for the stage, it's just whether he feels now that he can go for GC too. There's a time trial still to come and he's quite inconsistent; he can have a really good day, win a stage like today and then lose a few seconds tomorrow. So we'll have to see how he feels."
How exactly Sky would play a twohanded game with Uran, strongly rumoured to be leaving the team at the end of the year, and Wiggins is anyone's guess. "We are both strong, Wiggins is in good shape, but we had various cards to play and that's why we were on the front all day," Uran said. But he all but confirmed his bid for a dual team leadership when he said he hoped "a Sky rider" would win overall, rather than automatically stating Wiggins. And as fellow Colombian Carlos Betancur, who finished second on the stage, pointed out: "If Sky hadn't made Rigoberto wait for Wiggins on Friday [when the Briton crashed and was dropped on a descent] he would be in the leader's jersey right now."
Either way, what is undeniable is that Sky remain firmly in the battle for the final victory on 26 May – which is definitely beyond the reach of last year's winner, the Canadian Ryder Hesjedal, now in 33rd place, more than 20 minutes down.
Overall standings after stage 10
1 V Nibali (It) Astana 38:57:32
2 C Evans (Aus) BMC +41"
3 R Uran (Col) Sky +2min 04"
4 B Wiggins (GB) Sky +2' 05"
5 R Gesink (Neth) Blanco +2' 12"
6 M Scarponi (It) Lampre +2' 13"
7 M Santambrogio (It) Vini +2' 55"
8 P Niemiec (Pol) Lampre +3' 35"
9 D Pozzovivo (It) AG2R +4' 17"
10 R Majka (Pol) Saxo +4' 21"
11 B Intxausti (Sp) Movistar +4' 23"
12 S Montoya (Col) Sky +5' 06"
13 T Kangert (Est) Astana +5' 08"
14 C Betancur (Col) AG2R +5' 26"
15 R Kiserlovski (Cro) Radioshack +5' 57"
16 Y Trofimov (Rus) K'sha +6' 08"