Pink jersey mix-up but no mistake about result for Sky in Giro team time trial
Sky made only one error in their preparations for the Giro d'Italia's stage 2 team time trial on Ischia, but in the grand scheme of things, it counted for little as they claimed victory and put time into Bradley Wiggins' rivals for final overall victory.
In the team briefing on Sunday morning, it was decreed that Dario Cataldo would cross the line first and - so Sky thought - take possession of the overall lead should they win the stage. As the winning nine waited beneath the podium, however, it was Salvatore Puccio who was called up to accept the pink jersey by dint of having been Sky's best-placed rider on stage 1 in Naples the previous day.
It seems that the marginal gains manifesto does not extend to scrutinising the rulebook closely, but the man who would have been maglia rosa - Dario Cataldo - could afford to smile about the mix-up when he spoke to reporters after the podium protocol.
"We had talked this morning with Bradley about who would cross the line first, and he wanted to give me this gift, but none of us had thought about the positions in the sprint yesterday," Cataldo said. "But that's really not a problem. The important thing today was just to go all out in the time trial."
"Dario would have deserved it, and I'm sorry for him because he's older than me," Puccio said almost apologetically, his cheeks still grazed with the lipstick of the podium hostesses. "It all happened so fast. Just two minutes before we were due up on the podium to get to the prize for the stage win, our press officer Dario Cioni told me that I was the maglia rosa."
The success or otherwise of Sky's Giro will be measured purely by whether that jersey rests upon the shoulders of Bradley Wiggins in Brescia three weeks from today, however. From that point of view, Cataldo agreed, Sunday's jaunt to Ischia turned out to be a very successful outing.
While Wiggins' rival-in-chief Vincenzo Nibali and his Astana team limited their losses to 14 seconds, there was disappointment for Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp), who lost 25 seconds, and for Cadel Evans (BMC), who conceded 37.
"It was an excellent day, we can say that it went as we had hoped," Cataldo said. "It was a very difficult course to interpret and to control, and the most difficult thing was to keep the team together. We got to the finish with five riders as we lost a couple on the last climb but we stayed compact until the end with the five that we had. And fortunately it all worked out well in the end with our time."
Cataldo paid particular tribute to the efforts of his leader Wiggins. Thanks to his pedigree as a team pursuiter, the Englishman was mindful of pitching his effort to the needs of the team. "Bradley was really very strong and he went up the climbs with a really strong and regular rhythm, so he was the man who made the difference," Cataldo said. "I was never afraid of losing his wheel because he set a very, very even pace on the climbs."
Even so, Wiggins' effort on the final climb reduced Sky's formation to the bare minimum of five riders. Sky had trailed Movistar at the intermediate time check after 7.9 kilometres, but over the back end of the course, Wiggins took matters in hand.
"When he pulled on the last climb he made the selection himself, practically," Cataldo said. "We lost our last men after his turn on the front there, but looking at the intermediate times, that's where the difference was made."
The question now is whether Sky will look to defend Puccio's overall lead, or at least keep the maglia rosa in house until next Saturday's individual time trial in the Marche, when Wiggins is expected to show his hand.
The young Puccio shyly admitted that "it would be a great dream to get to the Saltara time trial in the pink jersey." Team manager Dave Brailsford was vague on whether that would be the case, saying, "We will do what we have to do in the coming days."
The clearest assessment of the lie of the land came from Cataldo. "We don't want to feel the pressure of this jersey just yet as we all know that the crucial moments of this Giro are still to come," he said. "Today the objective was to gain a few seconds on our rivals for Bradley, and to give him morale by letting him know that he had strong team. We don't want pressure. Our objective is further ahead, when the real climbs start."
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