Team Sky and Astana have provided their reaction to a tough Stage 7 of the Giro d’Italia today in which their respective big hopes for the overall win, Sir Bradley Wiggins and Vincenzo Nibali, both crashed on roads made treacherous by heavy rain. The stage was won by lone escapee Adam Hansen of Lotto-Belisol, but it’s the effect on GC that provides the big talking point, with Wiggins losing nearly a minute and a half to Nibali.
The Sicilian had already crashed twice by the time Wiggins suffered his chute on a descent from the final climb today, crested 7.5km from the finish in Pescara.
It’s the latter incident, however, that potentially has more ramifications for the overall - by contrast with Nibali, who remounted and continued to press ahead, Wiggins, who had looked nervous enough before his fall, perhaps mindful of the crash that ended his 2011 Tour de France challenge, seemed to lose his nerve altogether afterwards.
“Bradley’s fine. There’s no physical injury,” said Sky team principal Sir Dave Brailsford afterwards, easing concerns that Wiggins may have hurt his elbow in the crash.
“Ultimately when you have difficult conditions like these and hard racing this type of thing can happen. It’s the Giro.
“You can have good days and bad days and you have to wait until the end to tot them all up and see where you are. It’s a setback, but Brad’s still very much in the hunt.
“We’ve now got to take each day as it comes, focus on fully recovering tonight and hitting the time trial hard tomorrow.
“We’ll see where we are tomorrow night and take stock of the situation then.”
Wiggins had been expected to move into the maglia rosa tomorrow, and that may yet happen, though he lost time not only to Nibali but some of the stronger time triallists among the GC challengers such as defending champion Ryder Hesjedal and the Briton’s predecessor as Tour de France winner, Cadel Evans.
The time Wiggins lost also potentially changes the complexion of the race once the time trial is over, because any time advantage he emerges from it with will only come after he has first clawed back just shy of a minute and a half on his rivals.
Unlike the Tour de France, the Giro has time bonuses for the top three finishers on stages, something that will encourage late bursts from attacking riders such as Nibali, but not in line with Wiggins’ usual style.
One possibility is that Team Sky could use Rigoberto Uran or Sergio Henao to try and prevent rivals from picking up some of those bonuses – certainly both are strong enough to challenge for stage wins – but today both fell down the GC after holding back to help Wiggins.
There’s been plenty of talk in recent days about rifts within the Sky camp, with the Colombian pair said to be leaving at the end of the season and even intent on challenging Wiggins’ leadership here – their actions today put that latter rumour firmly to rest, at least – and Brailsford insists they made the right decision today.
“It’s the team’s call,” he explained. “They are here to ride for a leader. When you’re dedicated to a single leader that’s the call that the team made and that’s the right call as far as I’m concerned.
“You’ve got to take setbacks on the chin and you have to show character. That’s what it’s all about and you have to keep fighting right until the end and that’s what we’ll aim to do. There’s a long way to go.”
The conditions today were meat and drink to Nibali, widely acknowledged to be the best descender in the peloton, who used an attack on a similarly tricky stage in the rain not far from here to set up the successful defence of his Tirreno-Adriatico title in March.
The Sicilian ends the day second overall on GC, five seconds behind new race leader Benat Intxausti of Movistar, but it was nevertheless surprising to see him too fall victim to the conditions, albeit without the loss of time that Wiggins suffered.
"I didn't even expect the second crash, but when it is wet and cold I am one of the riders who goes better,” admitted Nibali afterwards.
“Today was a very important finish, but there are still two weeks."
The parcours of today’s race would have been difficult enough even in perfect conditions, but Astana DS Alexandr Shefer agreed that it was a late downpour that led to rider after rider crashing during a tricky final 50 kilometres with four categorised climbs.
"We had tactics today to try and win the stage,” he said. “Tanel Kangert attacked to get away early on the final slopes, and then Vincenzo went to join him.
“But when Vincenzo fell that broke the rhythm, and then the whole peloton started to crash, and it was impossible to get much speed with most of the riders trying to ride as safely as possible before tomorrow.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.