Sky Team Principal Dave Brailsford was determined to keep any kind of euphoria to a minimum at the finish of stage 2 of the Giro d’Italia, where Sky took their first Grand Tour team time trial victory
“I don’t think you can read too much into it, you’re not going to win the Giro today, the gap to Hesjedal is neither here nor there,” Brailsford said. And it is true that 17.4 kilometres of time trialling do not form a huge chunk of a 3,000-kilometre race, even if the 2012 race was won by less than 20 seconds.
However, those determined to read the runes of the Ischia team time trial will have noticed that Sky have simultaneously reconfirmed their position as the dominating force in Grand Tour stage racing, and that Bradley Wiggins is lying in the ideal position for a Tour favourite: second overall, with none of the pressure of the leader’s jersey, but almost all of the advantages.
It is, in fact, an uncannily close re-run of the situation after the prologue of the 2012 Tour de France, where Wiggins was lying second behind Fabian Cancellara, as close to the top as he can be without actually breaking the surface. The rest are on the defensive, and he is the man to beat. Already.
Should this situation remain stable for the next week - unlikely but possible - Wiggins will be ideally placed for the upcoming time trial next Saturday, arguably the next key stage.
As last favourite off in that time trial, he will have all their times as references by which to gauge his efforts, whilst the other rivals will have fewer ways of judging their effort. History is, therefore, that little bit more likely to repeat itself.
Astana, of all Wiggins rivals’, have the most to celebrate. Traditionally reasonably strong in the team time trial but not exceptionally so, this time round they punched above their weight. This is a squad full of climbers, as Nibali insisted. They have kept well in contention, there were no disasters and on a day when their Giro options might have taken a blow, instead they remained intact. Perhaps only one man could be even happier than Nibali and Wiggins with his team time trial performance: Michele Scarponi’s Lampre team were predicted to be in for a hammering, and instead the former Giro winner is well within striking distance of the maglia rosa. If he manages a similarly strong ride in the individual version of the time trial, his contendership for a podium finish in Milan will be more than confirmed.
Nor is this the disaster for Garmin-Sharp that the doom-and-gloom merchants on Internet forums will surely be pronouncing. Overall, Hesjedal is still as much in the game as he was before: the difference is that on paper this was an opportunity to take time on several of their rivals, and that opportunity has been lost. The same goes, although the team is teetering a little closer to a clear defeat, for Cadel Evans and BMC and his options - although he has always said that the Tour is the big objective of 2013.
Carlos Betancur and Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2R), losing 50 seconds, will see their outside status diminished as a result of their team’s poor result, whilst Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) had already said that the general classification was a secondary objective to a stage win. Now, after his team’s very difficult performance,with only four riders completing the course together and 61 seconds lost, that will be even more be the case.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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