Bradley Wiggins' hopes of overall success at the Giro d'Italia ended on the rain-soaked roads to Treviso during stage 12 on Thursday, but Team Sky refuted speculation that he might immediately quit the race, putting off any decision until Friday morning.
Wiggins has been suffering with a cold and chest infection for several days and taking antibiotics. When the speed picked up in the final, flat part of the stage, he was unable to hold the wheel and lost contact.
All his Team Sky teammates except overall contenders Rigoberto Uran and Sergio Henao waited for him and escorted home but he finished 3:17 behind fellow Brit Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), who was elated to secure the 100th victory of his career.
Wiggins' emotions were very different and he looked empty and ghost-like when he crossed the line. He didn't speak to the media before getting on the bus. Team manager Dave Brailsford came out in the rain to dampen any ideas that Wiggins would automatically quit the Giro d'Italia and he would home to recover and start thinking about the Tour de France.
"He's knackered, to use a nice British term," he said despondently.
"It was reported that it was a stomach illness but that wasn't the case. He's got a severe cold and a chest infection. He battled that yesterday but it got worse overnight. We always knew it was going to be an uphill battle, but it's not like Bradley Wiggins to lose a wheel on the flat."
Several TV interviewers pushed to understand if Wiggins will continue in the Giro. Brailsford insisted it was too soon to make any decision.
"He's fit enough to carry on but it's not about fitness, it's about sickness. They're two very different things. If you're sick, you're sick and there's not much you can do about it," he said.
"He'll have a shower, have some food, get to the hotel and see how he is overnight. If he's over the worst and getting better then he'll carry on. If he's getting worse it'll be up to the medics to make the call that's best for him health wise."
"If it's raining tomorrow, we don't want someone's health to deteriorate progressively worse but if he's over the worst, then he'll carry on."
Overall hopes have gone
Brailsford conceded that Wiggins' overall chances of victory had gone, and with it any dreams of a rare Giro-Tour double. However he insisted that Wiggins could carry on and target other goals in the Giro if he recovers.
"The GC has gone but he's still got the rest of the race. You've got to consider his health and the impact on that to consider or not. If he recovers, he could focus on the time trial as a goal and commit to helping the rest of the team," Brailsford said.
"If he can continue, he will continue. In his mind, I think the time trial could be a goal. So if he can continue, he will continue. He's going to have to be pretty ill to stop."
Wiggins has been criticised and ridiculed by parts of the Italian media after his problems on the descents earlier in the Giro but Brailsford defended his team leader.
That's sport and that's life. We had a lot of things that went our way and not a lot of set backs. In the fullness of time, these things come along and you've got to take them in your stride," he said.
"I think he's brave and showed a lot of courage to get on his bike. When you open the curtains and are feeling as sick as he was, the last thing you want to see is the pouring rain. He's still in the race. Lets see what happens overnight."
"We've all had colds and the flu and we all know how we feel. I'm sure some of us would call in sick and have a day off but these guys can't do that. You have to look inside yourself sometimes and I think he's shown a lot of courage."
All for Uran now
Rigoberto Uran may not stay with Team Sky in 2014 and was not the designated team leader for the Giro d'Italia, but the Colombian now carries the team's hopes for overall success. He is now third overall, 2:04 behind race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
"It's very disappointing for Brad, but it's still a very positive race for where we're at on GC," Brailsford said, trying to find a silver lining in the grey clouds over Treviso.
"The team will get right behind Rigoberto Uran and keep on racing all the way to Brescia. He looks in good shape and so for us it's still a very exciting race, and we'll compete to try and get on the podium or even better with Rigoberto."
"The team lost its purpose when Brad broke his collarbone (in the 2011 Tour de France) but here we're still in the race."
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