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Bradley Wiggins (Sky)
Brailsford praises Cavendish for slowing peloton
There are no days off for overall contenders at the Giro d'Italia. Stage 6 from Mola di Bari to Margherita di Savoia was always destined to end in a bunch sprint but for Bradley Wiggins (Sky), the day proved far from the amble along the Adriatic coast anticipated by many.
Forced to drop back for a routine bike change with a shade over 30 kilometres remaining, Wiggins's pursuit became slightly more frantic when a mass crash split the peloton up ahead and brought the Englishman and many others to a standstill.
When Wiggins got going again, he found himself over a minute down on a peloton that was being led by Katusha and later FDJ. Flanked by his Sky team, however, he was able to latch back onto the main bunch some 10 kilometres later and finished the day safely in the main peloton with all the other principal contenders.
After warming down outside the Sky team bus, Wiggins opted not to speak to the waiting reporters and left it to manager Dave Brailsford to articulate the team's reaction to a day that proved more complicated than expected.
"Somebody rode into his rear mech so he then had to change bike," Brailsford said. "Just as he was getting back on after he changed the bike, there was a big crash and he had to wait for two or three minutes, which was a long time."
As Wiggins stood frustrated behind the carnage, the front end of the peloton containing his rivals for the maglia rosa was chugging away up the road. None of the teams of the other overall contenders contributed to the pace-making at the front of the race but Brailsford paid particular tribute to the Omega Pharma-QuickStep team of stage winner Mark Cavendish for slowing affairs to allow Wiggins get back on.
"QuickStep understood the situation and absolutely bought into the ethics of fair play," Brailsford said. "They were riding but they weren't racing and they deserve a lot of credit for that. Mark's not only a great champion and the best sprinter in the world but he's got a great sense of fair play like that."
Perhaps stung by the time he lost in the slippery finale at Serra San Bruno on Tuesday, Wiggins was prominent at the head of the peloton on the finishing circuit in Margherita di Savoia, putting in a monstrous turn on the front before sinking back into the main body of the bunch inside the last three kilometres. An exercise in muscle-flexing ahead of Saturday's lengthy time trial?
"In the final, he just wanted to stay out of trouble," Brailsford said. "He's so good in a straight line on the flat, he's doing as much work there as he'd have done at the back. It's not taking any more out of him and he's totally safe."
Before the Saltara time trial, of course, comes a day laden with potential traps and pitfalls in the Abruzzo region. After the overall contenders came out of Italy's deep south more or less on level pegging, Sky and Wiggins will be aiming to maintain the status quo on Friday.
"It's hard, it's a very, very hard stage," Brailsford said. "It's one of the real typical hard stage of the Giro similar to the stage at Tirreno-Adriatico [where Sky's Chris Froome lost the overall lead – ed.], so everybody will know that it is a hard stage but also we want to make sure that no time is lost going into the time trial."