In spite of their travails on the road to Florence on stage 9 of the Giro d’Italia, maglia rosa Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) warned that Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) remain among his chief rivals for final overall victory.
A tentative Wiggins was distanced on the rain-soaked descent of the Vallombrosa and forced to endure a frantic chase while Astana set the pace on the front of the peloton. While Wiggins managed to claw his way back on, Hesjedal suffered a more substantial loss in the finale. Dropped on the climb of Fiesole, he lost 1:06 to Nibali on the day and slipped to 11th overall, 3:11 down.
“Wiggins and Hesjedal are still the principal rivals along with [Cadel] Evans and [Michele] Scarponi. The Giro is long and anybody can have a bad day,” Nibali said afterwards. “Yesterday, Wiggins still went very well in the time trial and almost won it. Hesjedal was very good in the first week and he only struggled in the finale of the stage.”
Nibali’s Astana team looked to control affairs at the head of the peloton for much of the day, and when they set the tempo on the way down the Vallombrosa, Wiggins was distanced at the rear of the bunch.
Although Wiggins had already struggled on the final descent on stage 7 to Pescara, Nibali denied that Astana had gone to the front in a deliberate bid to put the Englishman under pressure.
“We were pulling at the front and we had Vanotti doing a decent tempo, but my team car was a long way back and I didn’t know what was happening,” Nibali said afterwards. “I only realised that Wiggins was dropped when Vini Fantini-Selle Italia, BMC and Garmin came to the front and started pulling.”
Wiggins eventually made it back on and after the stage, Sky manager Dave Brailsford looked to put a positive spin on their afternoon by pointing out that because of Astana’s stint on the front, Nibali was left isolated in the finale to Florence’s Piazzale Michelangelo.
“Kanel Tangert was there with me and he’s in top form, so much so that on the last climb I had to shout at him to slow him down,” Nibali said. “We stayed very united and it was important as the finale was difficult. It was a tough stage already and it was made more difficult by the rain.”
Heading into Monday’s rest day, Nibali holds a 29-second lead over Cadel Evans (BMC), with Robert Gesink (Blanco) and Wiggins third and fourth. Already on song at the Giro del Trentino in late April, can Nibali maintain his condition all the way to Brescia, still two weeks away? “I can say that I’m good, I’m feeling good,” he said.