Lithuania’s Ramunas Navardauskas gave the Garmin-Sharp Team a boost on Wednesday with a solo summit finish win on stage 11 of the Giro d’Italia the day after team leader Ryder Hesjedal lost all hope of repeating last year’s overall success.
Navardauskas, who was part of a long-distance break of 20 through the Dolomite Mountains, shed his closest pursuer, Daniel Oss of Italy, 5km from the finish line to claim his first Grand Tour stage victory.
Italy’s Stefano Pirazzi was third, while Vincenzo Nibali of Italy finished safely in the main peloton 5 minutes and 41 seconds behind Navardauskas to retain his overall lead ahead of Australian Cadel Evans and Colombia’s Rigoberto Uran.
“We’ve not been so lucky in this race,” Navardauskas, who became Lithuania’s first-ever leader of the Giro last year when he headed the race for one day, told reporters. “Ryder has had some bad days and has not been so fortunate, so as a team we wanted to try and turn things around today. All of us wanted to get in a move.”
“It was a long day off the front, but I got in the right break and managed to turn it round for the team. I couldn’t be happier,” he added.
After taking Canada’s first-ever Grand Tour win last year in the Giro, Hesjedal suffered badly on Tuesday’s first high mountain stage, losing nearly 20 minutes and all chance of a repeat victory.
On Wednesday’s 182km mountainous stage, Hesjedal finished a further 13 minutes down on his victorious teammate and eight behind the main peloton of overall contenders.
However, when riding slowly up the final ascent of Vajont, the Garmin-Sharp leader repeatedly made a thumbs-up sign when team sports director Charly Wegelius told him Navardauskas had already won.
“It’s incredible, extraordinary, he’s done so much work for me and it’s nice to see him get an individual reward,” Hesjedal told reporters.
After his own chances of victory evaporated, Hesjedal said: “we wanted to open up the race for the guys [teammates] to take their chances and it was a perfect opportunity.”
Asked about his own chances of making it to the finish line, or even trying to win a stage himself, Hesjedal added: “I really don’t know. Today was a lot better than yesterday, a lot easier to ride. Today was a good day for us. I’m not really thinking about tomorrow.”
Nibali described the stage — which finished in the Vajont Valley as part of its 50th anniversary commemorations for the area’s 1963 dam disaster in which nearly 2,000 people died — as “straightforward for us.”
“My team decided to let the break [of non-favorites] go and then keep things under control behind, but there will be harder days to come,” he added.
A chest infection was the latest setback to hit Britain’s pre-race favorite Bradley Wiggins.
Tour de France champion Wiggins, finished the stage in the main pack behind Navardauskas to stay fourth overall, two minutes, five seconds behind Nibali.
“I’m not feeling very good at the moment, I’ve had a pretty rough 24 hours,” Wiggins told reporters.
“I’ve got a chest infection and a bog-standard head cold. Fortunately in these days, these kinds of stages, there’s just a bit of fighting and you can get through them and hide a little bit, but I just want to try and fight through it and hope that a few days time I’ll be all right,” he said.
“Most of the team have been sick,” the Sky rider said. “It seems to last for three or four days and then you get better.”
Wiggins went into the three-week race as one of the favorites, but has suffered a series of mishaps including a bad downhill crash, being blocked behind another pile-up and suffering a puncture during the time trial.
On Tuesday’s first full mountain stage, Wiggins lost 37 seconds to Nibali and struggled on a steep section of the final climb.
Asked if the Giro d’ltalia was a tougher race than the Tour, Olympic time trial champion Wiggins retorted: “The Tour of Picardie is a bloody hard race if you get sick. There’s only so much you can do.”