After their rest day in Treviso the Giro d’Italia peloton started stage 10 of this year’s race. Facing them was the first high mountain stage of the race, where shake-ups in the general classification were going to happen. The mountain top finish at Altopiano del Montasio with sections at 25% gradient was bound to cause large time gaps. We take a look back at the stage seeing who made the right tactical moves and where.
Stage 10 saw Team Sky take the race by the horns with the aim of getting back some of the time that Wiggins had lost in the first week. The only way for him to gain time was to attack, and with two strong Columbian teammates close to him in the top ten overall, Team Sky thought that they had the cards to play.
As with Stage 9 Nibali and his Astana team showed a chink in their armour. The team was selected to wage war on a Team Sky that was supposed to have the pink jersey at this point in the race. That is not the case and even with some of the best support riders in the mountains, Astana does not have the big strong men to sit on the front controlling the race all day.
As the Astana train thinned, Team Sky took up the pace setting at front of the peloton, setting their whole team to work. The aim to create a high enough tempo on the initial slopes of the final climb to then hopefully allow Wiggins to attack, or at least jump up to a team mate up the road, gaining time on Nibali.
The plan started well, with the break of the day being reeled back, the high pace taking its toll on the lead group, creating a select group. As the Maglia Rosa group followed the Team Sky train, content to sit and survive at this high tempo, defending champion Ryder Hesjedal continued his run of bad days, getting dropped early on the climb. He would end up riding in 20 minutes behind the stage winner, ending his 2013 Giro challenge.
With two riders left on the front, Team Sky continued to push hard. Dario Cataldo set a blistering tempo with Uran Uran on his wheel, seeing top riders drift out of the back of the group. Nibali, Evans and the other GC contenders were sat at the back of the two-man Team Sky train, but interestingly Wiggins was sat mid-group looking to be suffering as much as the others in the group. He was being shepherded by Henao, but was taking a risk; being that far back in the group meant he was giving the others 10 metres of an advantage had they attacked.
As Cataldo swung off, his job completed for the day, Uran Uran attacked, quickly gaining 30 seconds. It took Astana a while to rally a team rider to set the tempo on the front. Clearly tired, the Astana team rider pulled faces, but Uran Uran’s gap continued to grow. It looked like Team Sky was set to pull off a coup, only needing Wiggins to seal the deal on the 25% section coming around 3 kilometres from the finish.
Unfortunately this did not materialise and Wiggin’s weaknesses were exposed. The reigning Tour de France champion has never been an explosive rider, seeming to struggle a couple of times during last year’s Tour on the steeper sections. Wiggins was now isolated on the steepest sections of the climb as Cataldo and Henao were distanced, the race was on and as ever the tall bit seemed unable to get out of the saddle to respond to the attacks. Without a strong tempo being set, the steeper section became open for the climbers, with their attacks and staccato style of racing. Wiggins, unable to respond was on the back foot.
As the attacks went from the Maglia Rosa group, Wiggins slipped out of the back. Uran Uran was still riding well at the front and gaining time over Nibali. With the GC group now down to 6 riders it was time for some “on the ground tactics”. Evans obviously noticed that Wiggins was distanced so set about riding on the front to increase the pressure. With Nibali sat on his wheel it was questionable whether he was riding for the leader’s jersey. The Giro has time bonuses on each stage. With Evans setting the tempo and unable to respond, a simple attack from Nibali in the final kilometre would see him gain another few seconds on GC.
That was exactly what happened. Uran Uran took the win, moving up to third on GC, ahead of Wiggins. Second was Bentacur who took a few more of his lost seconds back. Nibali came in third gaining another few seconds on Evans. Wiggins lost another 31 seconds to Nibali today.
Hindsight is an interesting thing. As Dave Brailsford said after the stage “Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.” Team Sky have proved that they are the strongest team in the race, but perhaps not the most tactically astute. Wiggins, even on his race weight, has never been a rider for the steep climbs. By riding too soon, Team Sky arguably set themselves up for an isolated Wiggins. Sure, it was the hardest finish in the race, but had the team started to ride 5 kilometres later, having man power to set the tempo on the steep section or at least someone to pace Wiggins back afterwards, the losses could have been smaller.
As for the others, Evans would have been wiser to control his efforts. Make Nibali ride, putting the pressure on him, because as we have seen, giving the Italian a free ride to the finish will allow him to capture those small time bonuses.
Going into the rest of the week, Team Sky have to attack; they have to gain time over Nibali. A difficult task for the boys in blue and black, but it is also making for an even more interesting race for us the Tifosi to watch!
Author: Phil Gale