Sir Bradley Wiggins has withdrawn from this year's Giro d'Italia ahead of today's stage on medical grounds and will return to the UK to recover Team Sky announced this morning ahead of Stage 13 - the longest in the race. Also withdrawing thie morning is defending champion Ryder Hesjedal of Garmin-Sharp.
On Wedenesday Wiggins, the pre-race favourite, revealed that he had been ill since the start of the race but had decided to race in the hope that he would recover enough to sustain a serious challenge for the maglia rosa. Yesterday on another gruelling wet stage he lost further time on his GC rivals and was clearly struggling.
Last night Sky team principal, Dave Brailsford, said the team's medical staff would keep an eye on Wiggins overnight and make a decision in the morning. That decision has now been made.
“We monitored Bradley overnight and this morning we’ve withdrawn him from the Giro after consulting the team doctor. His chest infection has been getting worse and our primary concern is always the health of our riders.
“Bradley will return to the UK today for treatment and to rest and we hope to have him back on the road as soon as possible.
“As a passionate racer he wanted to continue but he is simply unable to do so on medical grounds," Brailsford told the Team Sky website.
Last night reflecting on Wiggins’ travails on stage 12, Brailsford, said: “Brad developed a head cold and a chest infection and has been on antibiotics."
“His illness has got progressively worse and we knew ahead of the race this morning it was going to be tough for him to get through the stage," Brailsford continued.
“When you see a rider of Bradley Wiggins’ calibre struggling to hold the wheel in front of him on the flat you know that he’s ill. When you’re ill you’re ill and all you can do is your best to try and manage that illness. I think he showed great courage to battle through the stage to the finish.”
Wiggins himself was said to be determined to carry on, but now lay 13th overall, 5 minutes 22 seconds down on Nibali, ending his dreams of adding the maglia rosa to the maillot jaune he won in last year’s Tour de France.
“It’s a testament to Brad that he has said he wants to continue in the race and carry on to Brescia with the team," said Brailsford.
Most of Team Sky’s riders held back to try in vain on stage to Treviso to pace Wiggins back to the group containing the GC challengers, but with the sprinters’ teams also in that group and pushing on to try and reel in five breakaway riders, the chase was in vain.
In the maglia rosa group however was Sky’s Rigoberto Uran, who lay third overnight, 1 second ahead of Wiggins, and Brailsford made it clear that whether or not the Briton continues, it’s the Colombian who will now lead the team’s challenge.
“Rigoberto did a great job and retained his third position overall. He’s looked very strong this race and we’ll now do everything to support him in the race for the general classification,” he explained.
Also withdrawing from the Giro this morning is the Candian Hesjedal, who has been struggling since Saturday's time trial and lost more than 20 minutes on Turesday's Stage 10.
"It's heartbreaking," said the Garmin Sharp rider. "I want to be here for my team and for all the people who have supported me to get me here to this point. I built my entire season around the Giro and I came here feeling great, but I have been suffering since the TT.
"We're working on it, but we're not sure what's wrong. There's a virus that's been going around, so it could be that, or severe allergies, or going too deep on the TT combined with both – whatever it is, I'm only getting worse.
"Yesterday's stage was just too much for me, I fought to get through it and I know everyone suffered but after seeing the medical staff last night, I also know that its time for me to go home, get some tests done and get healthy again."
Win number 100 for Mark Cavendish in Treviso (pic LaPresse/RCS Sport)
It was a happier day for Cavendish, whose Omega Pharma-Quick Step team worked hard to help reel in the breakaway, although they left it very late, the sprinter passing the quintet a couple of hundred metres shy of the line to move into treble figures.
Cavendish has said in the past that he’s not too bothered about statistics and leaves it to others to keep track of records, but he acknowledged there was something different about this one, which is also his third stage win of this year’s race and 13th Giro stage in total.
“Normally, these records are not so meaningful, but this one is special,” he said. “It isn’t easy to win 100 races. I’ve been looking forward to this one. It’s good to do it at the Giro, and it’s good to do it the way we did it, because my team mates rode out of their skin from the start of the stage to the finish. The guys were incredible, every single one of them, and that makes it even more special.”
“We came here wanting to win every sprint, and so far, we’ve done it convincingly, leading the peloton from start to finish,” he went on.
“Everyone worked to bring the breakaway back. Geert Steegmans was really controlled in the final part. In these difficult conditions, it is easy to get carried away too soon, but today our timing was perfect.”
The former world champion is aware that on a sprint stage, anything less than a win on his part is regarded by some as a failure.
“Today, if I do anything except win, it is regarded as losing,” he explained. “That’s how things have changed. I no longer win races, I lose them. That changes my perception of things and it changes my team’s perception of things. But I guess it’s part and parcel of success.”