And then there were three. Mitchell Docker's abandon on the road to Montecampione on Sunday has reduced the Orica-GreenEdge contingent on the Giro d’Italia to just three riders as the race enters a final week that sport director Matt White believes measures up to the toughest in history of the event.
After claiming victory in the opening team time trial in Belfast and holding the maglia rosa for the first week of racing, Orica-GreenEdge were always liable to pay a price for their early efforts, which also yielded road stage victories through Michael Matthews at Montecassino and Pieter Weening at Sestola.
Yet while White acknowledged that controlling the peloton for the opening week exacted a physical toll, he pointed out that most of GreenEdge's six abandons have been down to ill fortune rather than accumulated fatigue. "We've definitely paid a price but when you look at the guys who've gone home, that hasn't had anything to do with it," White told Cyclingnews.
Brett Lancaster was forced out of the Giro after breaking his arm in the mass crash at Montecassino, while a virus ended Cameron Meyer's race 24 hours later. Matthews was a faller early on stage 9 and did not start stage 11 to Savona, while Luke Durbridge suffered a broken collarbone in a crash later that day. Weening and Docker, meanwhile, abandoned due to illness on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
The three riders remaining in the race – Svein Tuft, Ivan Santaromita and grand tour debutant Michael Hepburn – have not been without their problems either. After taking the first maglia rosa in Ireland, Tuft was a faller on stage 4 and spent most of the next week covered in gauze.
"Svein is getting better, while Hepburn has had just one crash but he's ok. Physically he's going to hurt the next week but he's got such a big engine that I think he's going to be fine," White said. "Santaromita's had some problems too but you can see he's on the way back."
During Monday's rest day at Ponte di Legno, RCS Sport confirmed that – for now at least – stage 16 to Val Martello will feature the Gavia and Stelvio as planned, although a back-up route over the Passo del Tonale and Passo Castrin has also been prepared should conditions deteriorate overnight and snow block the roads above 2500 metres.
"There would be no complaints from this team if Tuesday's stage was shortened, that's for sure," White admitted. "The last week of this Giro is as hard if not harder than any hard week of any grand tour I've ever seen. Ever. You show me a last week that's harder than what we've got planned."
With four summit finishes to come in the Giro's final six days – at Val Martello, Rifugio Panarotta, Cima Grappa and Monte Zoncolan – White was realistic about his team's prospects between now and next Sunday. While the Italian champion Santaromita might look to sniff out a breakaway, the objective is to bring the three remaining riders to the finish in Trieste.
"You've got to be realistic and take it one day at a time, especially when we're a team in survival mode," White said. "We'd love to win another stage but at the end of the day, we've done what we came to achieve."