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Bradley Wiggins (Sky) lost contact with the front group in the stage 4 finale
Italian on difference between Giro and Tour descents
Nicknamed "Il Falco" (the Falcon) for the descending skills that carried him to the maglia rosa in both 2002 and 2005, few have better credentials than Paolo Savoldelli to analyse Bradley Wiggins' tentative performances on the Giro d'Italia's descents to date.
When Wiggins crashed on the descent of San Silvestro on stage 7, everything from poor biomechanics to over-inflated tyres were cited as possible explanations, and after another stilted downhill showing on stage 9, Eddy Merckx went so far as to say that the Sky man had descended "like a novice" and questioned his choice of equipment.
Speaking to Cyclingnews near Pordenone on the Giro's rest day, Savoldelli was careful to prefix his comments by stressing that it was difficult to assess the situation definitively without speaking to Wiggins personally, but said that he felt the Englishman had simply lost his nerve.
"It seems that he got a scare because he fell at a point where they weren't even descending quickly," Savoldelli said. "Even on the straights you could see that he was going very slowly, he wasn't pedalling and you could see that he was really afraid.
"On top of that, being tall is certainly no advantage on descents and even tall riders who are good descenders can struggle from having a higher centre of gravity. That said, you can tell from looking at him that he was really afraid on those descents."
Recovering one's confidence as a descender is a timely process at the best of times, and as far as Savoldelli is concerned, the damage has already been done: Wiggins' rivals at the Giro have detected a chink in his armour and will seek it to exploit it mercilessly.
"Wiggins was a little bit better on Sunday because at least when he came out of the corners, he was accelerating into the straights and closing the gaps," the former Discovery Channel rider said. "But the real problem for him now is that his rivals have understood that descending is a weakness for him and they'll be looking to take advantage of this problem whenever they can. I'd never have thought that a Tour de France winner would have a weakness of that kind."
Jan Ullrich won the 1997 Tour in spite of some cautious descending in the Alps, but during his triumph last July, Wiggins betrayed few such signs of nervousness. The explanation for the difference between then and now, Savoldelli said, is twofold.
"It was completely different at the Tour, his team was keeping him in front all the time," Savoldelli said. "On top of that, the roads are wider in France and it didn't rain there at all last July, at least not in the mountains. The descents of the Giro are much more difficult and technical. The other day they did roads that are already tricky enough when it's dry. So when it rained, chaos broke out.
"If you look back at when Sky have been put in difficulty before now, it was at Tirreno-Adriatico when Nibali managed to isolate Froome on that stage with all the sharp climbs and descents in the rain. In those conditions they weren't able to manage the race as they normally do."
Wiggins reached the rest day in fourth place overall, 1:16 down on maglia rosa Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Savoldelli views the Sicilian as the favourite for final overall victory. Wiggins has cut an unhappy figure at the Giro to date, and to begin his fight back in earnest, Savoldelli reckons that the Englishman needs some kind of upturn in fortune to boost his morale.
"Sometimes you just need that little something, a result or a good day, that gives you a bit of morale," Savoldelli said. "He was second in the time trial and only lost because of a puncture, for instance. When things start going wrong for you, you need a little spark or a small change in fortune to turn things around."