Now for the Tour: Thomas backs Bradley Wiggins' return after Giro d'Italia disappointment
One of the team-mates who knows Sir Bradley Wiggins best has backed him to bounce back from the disappointment of having to pull out of the Giro d'Italia, which yesterday continued in the mountains without him.
Wiggins, who had to quit through illness, will now refocus on the Tour de France, where on paper he is due to play a support role to Chris Froome at Team Sky, although leaving the Giro, his primary 2013 objective, on such a low note will fuel speculation about whether the reigning champion will force the leadership issue with Froome.
Whatever happens, another Sky team-mate, Geraint Thomas, has no doubts that Wiggins will return as good as ever. "Psychologically he's got what it takes to come back," he says. "He knows how to get in good shape, we've seen that from the Tour last year. Just like most of us, he's dedicated and motivated. After a few days off, he'll be ready to go again."
Thomas, though not in the Giro, knows of whom he speaks. Years of track racing together led to Thomas winning team-pursuit Olympic gold alongside Wiggins in 2008. The Welshman is also one of the few riders who has been with Wiggins at Sky since the team began in 2010, and rode the Tour with him that year and in 2011.
There is also a practical reason why Thomas is confident about his team-mate's return. As he points out, Wiggins was in top shape at the Giro in terms of fitness before the harsh weather and a 'flu bug that was doing the rounds of the Sky riders, first affecting team-mate Dario Cataldo then Wiggins, poleaxed the Briton's ambitions.
"Physically at least, Wiggins's underlying racing form in 2013 cannot be questioned as a result of the Giro, and he should have time to turn things around for the rest of the season," Thomas explains, before adding: "Initially you're pretty down and disappointed, but after a while as your health picks up, your motivation builds again and you want to be back and stay fit.
"The thing was, he was obviously going well, it's just unfortunate the way it happened. He had some bad luck, then the bad weather and sickness all came at the wrong time. There was nothing he could do.
"But that'll give him a bit of confidence, too, knowing that he was going well. It's just a question of bad timing all round. When it comes to winning a Grand Tour, you can't afford to get sick, but that's the way it goes."
The race programme for Wiggins once he has recovered has yet to be discussed, though the man himself said there had always been a plan in place for him to first rest and then rebuild his condition after the Giro, and that may be brought forward. The nine-day Tour de Suisse, the fourth-biggest stage race, which takes place in the second half of June, would be his logical warm-up event for the Tour de France.
"Each individual is different, but it will probably take him five days to get over that illness and then be back on the bike training hard," Thomas says. "Essentially it's all about resting up, getting better physically, then getting back into training."
And as Thomas points out, when it comes to bouncing back, Wiggins has in a sense been here before. In 2011, after crashing out of the Tour de France with a broken collarbone, the Londoner returned with a vengeance at the Vuelta a España, finishing third overall in Madrid and leading the race for four days before going on to his "dream year" of 2012 which, unlike this year, went without a hitch.
"Lucky seems to be the wrong word," adds Thomas, "but it does put that into perspective. Everything went smooth, there were no hiccups, it all went perfectly from January until the Olympics, really. So that shows how special last year was."
Thomas himself is currently building up for the summer with training rides on the lonely slopes of Mount Teide in Tenerife – "the internet is shoddy and the TV doesn't work in the room so we're staying on our bikes longer, which I guess is good," the Welshman reflects laconically.
But despite being at a distance, he knows how Wiggins will be feeling right now. "He'll be motivated, he'll take the blow well, like he always does, and head back ready for the Tour." We could be in for quite a summer.
Nibali tightens grip on Giro
Mauro Santambrogio took the stage victory but overall leader Vincenzo Nibali was the big winner as the poor weather dominated stage 14 of the Giro d'Italia. Organisers were forced to remove the day's major climb as snow, rain and fog hit. Nibali finished second as Cadel Evans, who began the day 41 seconds behind Nibali in second overall, crossed the line 33 seconds later. With the bonus seconds factored in, that leaves Evans 1min 26 sec down overall, while Rigoberto Uran dropped to 2min 46sec.
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