New Giro d’Italia race leader Vincenzo Nibali took an important step on Saturday toward possible victory by limiting his losses to favorite Bradley Wiggins in a time trial won by British time trial champion Alex Dowsett.
Movistar rider Dowsett had a three-hour wait before all the favorites had finished and he could be sure of victory in the 54km technical time trial, with Wiggins second 10 seconds back, Estonian Tanel Kangert third 14 seconds back and Italy’s Nibali fourth, 21 seconds behind the stage winner.
Following the Giro’s first key battle for the overall classification, 2010 Vuelta a Espana winner Nibali captured his first lead in the Giro since 2010, with Australia’s Cadel Evans second 29 seconds back, Dutchman Robert Gesink third 1 minute, 15 seconds back and Wiggins fourth, 1:16 off the pace.
“It’s a surprise to take the pink jersey [of race leader] so early, but I’m very pleased to have it,” Nibali, who rides for the Astana team, told reporters. “But I’m not taking anything for granted. I’m sure that Gesink, Evans, Wiggins and [Michele] Scarponi [of Italy, the 2011 winner] will fight until the end. We can’t rule out [Ryder] Hesjedal [of Canada] either. There’s a long way to go yet and I’m sure the third week will see a lot of battles in the high mountains.”
A minute ahead of Wiggins at the first checkpoint after the Briton had a slow puncture and a bike change, Nibali trailed the Sky rider by 11 seconds at the finish as Wiggins fought back on the second part of the course.
“The first part of the race has been difficult in general, not just the time trial, and I know I will have to grab seconds wherever I can in the days to come,” Nibali said.
Reigning Tour de France champion Wiggins rose from 23rd to fourth overall, but fell 10 seconds short of taking a morale-boosting stage win after a first week plagued with crashes, delays and unexpected time losses.
“I think that puncture broke his rhythm,” Sky Pro Cycling performance manager Rod Ellingworth told reporters. “He hit something on the road and it was two or two-and-a-half kilometers before he realized he’d done something to the bike.”
A frustrated Wiggins uttered one word to the press — “Yes” — when asked if he thought he had lost the time trial because of the puncture.
Last year’s winner of the maglia rosa Hesjedal finished 18th on the stage and dropped to sixth overall.
Dowsett clinched his first stage victory.
“The wait was horrible. It went on for so long. When you’re out on the bike at least you can get everything out and I kept on overtaking riders, but it was a long time sitting there before I knew I’d won,” Dowsett said.
The Giro d’Italia finishes on May 26 in Brescia, Italy.