The morning's newspapers gave no hint that Mikel Landa's Giro d'Italia was about to come to a very abrupt end on the road to Sestola on stage 10. "My Giro starts from today with the climb to Sestola," Landa had told Corriere della Sera during Monday's rest day. Gazzetta dello Sport had quoted him as saying: "I'm not surprised to be the favourite for the Giro."
Speaking with reporters beneath the signing-on podium in Campi Bisenzio on Tuesday morning, Landa had shown no signs of illness as he reported for duty, even telling a Danish television crew that he planned to attack on the way to Sestola.
Barely 30 kilometres into the day's stage, however, shortly after the peloton had left Pistoia and begun climbing the category 3 Passo della Collina, race radio crackled into action to announce that Landa had been dropped.
Shortly afterwards, Landa's deficit was announced as standing at three minutes, and after Astana began forcing at the front, each bulletin brought more doleful news for the Basque. Four minutes soon stretched to six. His fellow countryman Mikel Nieve and David Lopez waited with him, out of duty rather than in hope. Sixty-six kilometres into the stage, just before the start of the climb of Pietracolora, Landa climbed off his bike and abandoned the Giro.
Coming just 48 hours after a startlingly strong time trial showing had left him within touching distance of Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Landa's withdrawal was a surprise to all observers – and, it seems, to his teammates.
During the stage, Team Sky had issued a communique, with manager Dave Brailsford stating that Landa had been ill overnight and team doctor Inigo Sarriegui adding that he had abandoned the race due to viral gastroenteritis.
Speaking to reporters immediately after the finish, however, teammate Ian Boswell said that he had not been aware of Landa's plight before the stage began.
"Nothing was mentioned to us that he was ill before the race," Boswell said. "In the talk before the race he looked fine. I heard it was just some gastro problems. It was really unfortunate. It was definitely not the day to have some issues because it was a big day."
One might have thought that it would have been opportune to inform Landa's teammates before the start that their leader was struggling with illness, particularly ahead of a stage that tackled a succession of early climbs before the final haul to the finish. On terrain such as this, there was no place to hide weakness, but, strangely, Sky's riders apparently set out without knowing of Landa's ailment.
"He didn't mention anything before the race that he wasn't feeling well," Boswell said. "I saw him on the bus that he was a bit off. At one point he got really cold on the bus and it was pretty hot on the bus. No one really said anything just hoping….
"Sometimes after a rest day you don't feel too hot and then you get on the bike and feel fine. He didn't mention anything before the race, so we weren't aware of how bad he was. But I think once we got in the race it was pretty evident that he wasn't himself."
After Bradley Wiggins in 2013 and Richie Porte last year, Landa is the third Sky leader to abandon the Giro prematurely in recent years, continuing the team's underwhelming record at the business end of the corsa rosa.
Where in 2013, Rigoberto Uran was on hand to pick up the pieces and place on the final podium in Brescia, this time around Sky will have to switch their emphasis to chasing stage wins. Nicolas Roche, 26th at nine minutes, is the team's best-placed rider on general classification.
"I think we'll just be trying to hunt for stages. I'm not sure what happened [on the stage] today but Henao could be up there in the best young rider and we do have a team that has some good climbers," Boswell said. "We still have nine days to go now. We'll come up with a plan."
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