The effect of Bradley Wiggins’ withdrawal from the Giro d’Italia was neatly illustrated by the scenes in Busseto ahead of stage 13. Apart from a Sky News television reporter recording a to-camera piece gravely announcing the news of Wiggins’ abandon to his British fans, and a pair of Colombian journalists waiting to speak to Rigoberto Uran, there was precious little activity outside the Sky bus, with the tifosi’s attention turned to Mark Cavendish and maglia rosa Vincenzo Nibali.
Wiggins had lost over three minutes on the rain-soaked stage 12 to Treviso and there was little surprise when a communiqué from Team Sky landed early on Friday morning to confirm that he had abandoned the Giro, citing a respiratory infection and cold. Speaking to Cyclingnews outside the team bus before the start of stage 13, manager Dave Brailsford admitted that the withdrawal had been growing in inevitability over the past couple of days.
“It wasn’t a quick decision. It was getting increasingly obvious that was going to be the situation,” Brailsford said, explaining that Wiggins’ condition had worsened in the wet conditions on Thursday. “It didn’t take a genius to figure it out to be honest. You could see that if at a certain point in time if it didn’t start to reduce and he didn’t start to recover then.”
Brailsford looked to place Wiggins’ disappointment in context compared to his abrupt departure from the 2011 Tour de France when he suffered a broken collarbone in a pile-up on stage 7.
“He’s disappointed but you know when you’re ill, you’re ill,” Brailsford said. “It’s not like when he broke his collarbone because there one minute he was flying and within seconds the whole complexion of the whole thing changes. This was much more of a gradual realisation that this illness isn’t going to go away, that it’s going to get worse and from a health perspective at some point you have to draw the line.”
Brailsford confirmed that Wiggins had begun to feel unwell towards the end of the first week of the Giro but dismissed the idea that the team ought to have withdrawn him sooner. “There was talk about him having a stomach problem at the start but that wasn’t the case, although it was pretty early on when he started to come down with [the cold]. It was definitely there, but I don’t think it took anything away from his performance in the time trial,” said Brailsford.
Before the race, Wiggins had spoken robustly about the prospect of completing a Giro-Tour de France double, even though Chris Froome is slated to lead Sky in July. Brailsford refused to be drawn on what impact – if any – Wiggins’ early withdrawal would have on the team hierarchy and he said it was too early to say what Wiggins’ pre-Tour race programme might be.
“It’s too early. We’ll wait and see. We’ve got to assess his health first and then take it from there,” Brailsford said.
In Wiggins’ absence, Rigoberto Uran, who currently lies third overall at 2:04, becomes Sky’s outright team leader. After Wiggins and Chris Froome’s tense working relationship at both the 2011 Vuelta a España and the 2012 Tour, Sky can perhaps be grateful for small mercies – there will be no internal conflict at this Giro.
“When someone is ill and you’re unsure, people are worried and upset for Brad because they can see he’s ill. But once you make that decision [to abandon], there’s clarity and you know what you’re doing,” Brailsford said of the impact on team morale. “As harsh as that may seem, in many respects that increased level of clarity gives everybody an increased purpose. Rigoberto’s third in GC and that’s a very good position to be in. It’s arguably one of, if not the strongest positions in the race and I think the guys are very positive.”
Brailsford was confident, too, that Uran would not be fazed by the prospect of leading the Sky team, having entered the race with the brief of gregario di lusso. “Not at all, I’d say he deserves that opportunity,” Brailsford said. “He was 7th last year and he did that pretty much on his own with Sergio because we had a lead-out team with Mark here last year and they looked after themselves. To have the support of the team will help him and I think he deserves the opportunity.”
For his part, Uran – dubbed the Mick Jagger of cycling by Gazzetta dello Sport – seemed wholly encumbered by his new status when he rolled up to the start line in Busseto on Friday morning.
“It’s always a pity when you lose a teammate but when your health isn’t good it’s hard to continue in a race like this,” Uran told Cyclingnews. “Nothing changes in the team and everything continues as before. We’re going to continue the work we’ve been doing before now. We’ve been riding well.”
And Uran’s prospects in the mountaintop finishes at Bardonecchia and the Galibier this weekend? “I know them. They’re hard climbs and you’ll just have to be up there and attentive as usual,” he said.