Another day, another descent and yet more mixed messages for Bradley Wiggins and Team Sky on stage 9 of the Giro d’Italia. Dropped from the pink jersey group on the rain-soaked descent of the Vallombrosa, it briefly appeared as though Wiggins’ Giro challenge was about to unravel but instead the Englishman regained contact and reached Florence still in 4th place overall.
There was an added bonus for Wiggins in the finale, too, when Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) was dropped on the climb of Vetta Le Croci and conceded over a minute to all of the other contenders. Little wonder, then, that manager Dave Brailsford was keen to view the glass as being half-full at the finish at Florence’s dramatic Piazzale Michelangelo. However Wiggins’ glaring weaknesses when going downhill must surely be a concern.
Before the start, Wiggins had joked with reporters about his descending skills, but after the finish, his thoughts, as has been the norm at this Giro, remained a mystery. With a sphinx-like air, Wiggins pedalled impassively on the turbo-trainer outside the team bus and it was left to Brailsford to field questions from a small group of reporters.
Dangling at the back over the top of the Vallombrosa, a nervous Wiggins was distanced on the way down and with 40km to go, he trailed Vincenzo Nibali, Cadel Evans et al by almost a minute after Astana, BMC and Garmin-Sharp upped the pace at the front. There was considerable urgency in the Sky ranks as they scrambled to put together a chase behind but after the event, Brailsford affected an air of calm.
“Bradley took it a bit cautiously on that big descent and then obviously was confident that the team was going to ride back. There was no problem,” Brailsford said. “He was always coming back and I was always confident he was going to come back. Even though they were riding on the front it was always going to come back, there was no problem.”
Adding to the cacophony of mixed messages emanating from the Sky camp at that point was journalist David Walsh, embedded with the team at this Giro, who tweeted that Sky had played its “Colombia card” with Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Uran instructed not to wait for Wiggins.
“No, we’re here to work for Bradley, the whole team is here for him and that’s our job,” Uran told Cyclingnews as he rolled towards the Sky team bus at the finish.
At the finish, Brailsford was keener to talk about potential weaknesses in Astana’s team rather than his own, pointing out Nibali had been left isolated at the front after he set his teammates to work on the descent of the Vallombrosa.
“It was interesting – by doing that, Nibali was down to one rider in the end,” Brailsford said. “He was isolated in the final. It was interesting and I think they’ll find that defending the jersey isn’t easy, it’s hard work. We’ve defended jerseys for many days over tough terrains and we know how hard it is to do.
“Today was interesting to see that when Bradley was coming back on they were riding hard but then they isolated Vincenzo in the end and I think they’ll have to have a look at that because it could leave the opportunities open to attack, which is what we’re going to do.”
Wiggins, however, is a rider who has operated almost exclusively from a defensive position in the mountains since he began his remarkable late-career transformation into a stage race rider. Brailsford acknowledged that it would require a collective effort for Wiggins to take the race to Nibali and Astana.
“We’ll just be aggressive. We know how difficult it is to defend a jersey and we also know what we don’t like, so we’ll know what to do to make it as aggressive as possible. This race is a long way from being over,” he said, adding that the presence of Uran and Henao in the top ten overall was a positive for Wiggins.
“It gives you options and defending against too many options is always difficult. So I think that’s the thing from our point of view, we’ve got different cards to play,” he said.