Serra San Bruno, scene of the finish of stage 4 of the Giro d'Italia, is built up around its Certosa, a cloistered Carthusian monastery completely closed to outsiders. Shortly beyond the finish line, Bradley Wiggins retired immediately to the more temporary but no less forbidding cloister of the Team Sky bus after he lost 17 seconds to his pink jersey rivals when he was caught behind a crash in the finale.
It was left to manager Dave Brailsford to articulate the Sky camp's reaction to a day that saw Wiggins slip to sixth place overall on general classification, 34 seconds off the maglia rosa of Luca Paolini. At that point, the results were still provisional, and Brailsford was still optimistic that the race jury might revise the times given that the crash had taken place in the final three kilometres. "When there's an incident in the last 3km, they go through and look, and then they count it or they don't," he said hopefully.
When the white smoke finally arrived at the press centre, however, it was simply to confirm that the race jury had opted not correct Wiggins's time, the reason being that the Englishman Wiggins had already been distanced from the leading group when he was caught behind the fallen Cristiano Salerno (Cannondale).
Hervé Broecke, president of UCI commissaires on the Giro, explained the decision in detail to reporters. "Wiggins was already behind the bunch when the crash took place because there was a split in the peloton, which was very strung out," he said. "The crash took place with less than three kilometres to go, we watched to see who had been affected by this crash and they were given the time of the riders they were with."
The end result is that Wiggins is now level on time with Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) and three seconds behind Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). In effect, after the gains made by Sky in Sunday's team time trial in Ischia, the clock has been set back to zero among the Giro's three main favourites.
"It's like anything, you'd prefer not to, but I don't think it's race changing," Brailsford said of Wiggins's missing seconds. "It puts him back on a par with everyone else, but I think the big gaps will appear in the TT and the big mountain stages. That's where this race will be won and lost, not with seconds here and there on these stages."
Even so, it will have galled Sky to have lost time so carelessly after carefully orchestrating affairs on the final climb of Croce Ferrata. With Kanstantin Siutsou, Rigoberto Uran, Sergio Henao and Wiggins sitting in the front four positions on the steady ascent, Sky were able to enforce their familiar catenaccio tactics on proceedings and deter repeats of Monday's flurry of attacking, which had been sparked by Hesjedal.
"They all know it's too early and a stage like today isn't a decisive stage," Brailsford said. "It was a steady enough climb and it flattened out over the top, so it wasn't hard enough to really try anything. They'll wait until the mountain stages come along.
"It's pretty clear what our plan is – it's to keep things as tight as possible, stay in contention and then see where we are after the TT."
Another fly in the Sky ointment is the condition of Dario Cataldo, who fell ill the evening after the Ischia team time trial. The stricken Italian came in almost 20 minutes down on stage 3 and was dead last at Serra San Bruno, 28:20 down on stage winner Enrico Battalgin (Bardiani-CSF Inox).
"I don't think it was food poisoning," Brailsford said. "He was ill during the night and he couldn't keep anything down. And it's always testing after something like to try and ride two hard stages back to back, so he's done well. I think he's over the illness now but it's going to take some time for his body to recover again.
"But he'll come through and we'll really need him at the back end of the race. By that time, with the rest day et cetera, he should be ok."
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