World of Sport

Giro d’Italia: The story of the race so far

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Bradley Wiggins, a well-known mod and musician with a love for Paul Weller and new-wave punk rock, often plugs into his iPod when on the rollers, either warming down from a gruelling stage or getting into the zone ahead of a time trial.

But it seems that Wiggo's iPod had Bon Jovi's best-selling album from the 80s, Slippery When Wet, stuck in a loop in a week which left the Team Sky leader very much Livin' On A Prayer.

Having lost 17 seconds in stage four when held up by a crash in apocalyptic conditions in Serra San Bruno, Wiggo showed the descending ability of an in-form Michael Rasmussen three days later as he lost more than a minute to his main rivals on the undulating 177km stage to Pescara.

Vincenzo Nibali had time to come to grief himself on the final descent – and still distance his British rival, who crashed on a tight hairpin just 6km from the finish. "Let's be honest, I descended like a bit of a girl after Friday's crash," said Wiggins, channelling his inner Jeremy Clarkson. "That's not to disrespect girls – I have one at home," he added, slinging the metaphorical spade.

But if Wiggins was a girl during stage seven then he was one whole season of the hit US sitcom Girls two days later when he looked even more of a fish out of water during Sunday's sodden traipse to Florence.

Wiggins was so slow down the Cat.1 Vallombrosa that he could have got to the bottom quicker had he in fact fallen and slid down on his backside. (In fact, continuing the girls analogy, Wiggins went down slower than a nun in a monastery.)

"It is incomprehensible how Wiggins descends," quipped five-times Giro winner Eddy Merckx. "He's ridden the past few days like a novice on the downhills. I think there is something wrong with his material. He has no confidence."

There was certainly something wrong with Wiggins's material during Saturday's time trial: a slow puncture in the back wheel, to be more precise. This brought about the increasingly ubiquitous Wiggins bike-sling on the side of the road – an act which was somewhat undermined by his subsequent sheepish retrieval of his water bottle from the discarded Pinarello's cage.

Although losing out to fellow Brit Alex Dowsett (inexplicably described by Gazzetta three times in one day as a Hugh Grant lookalike), Wiggins rallied to take time off all his rivals. Although if you'd have offered Nibali an 11-second loss before the race he'd have bitten your whole arm off (as could be expected from any self-respecting Shark).

And yet, it could still be worse for Wiggins. He could be Ryder Hesjedal.

Having shipped two minutes in the time trial and another minute on the Cat.4 Fiesole climb outside Florence, the Canadian defending champion is now 3:11 down – the same number that represents the Toronto's dialing code for non-emergency services. But by the looks of things, this is very much a 9-1-1-style emergency for Hesjedal.

The telling point for Wiggins's opening week came during the Vallombrosa descent when five Sky riders were ordered back to nurse their leader back into contention – but absent from baby-sitting duties were Colombian duo Rigoberto Uran and Sergio Henao. Perhaps this shows that Dave Brailsford's team are coming round to the possibility of a Plan B.

"We're here to work for Bradley, the whole team is here for him and that's out job," said Uran when quizzed on Sunday evening, sounding every bit like Chris Froome during last year's Tour.

For all their difficulties in the opening week, however, Sky still have three men in the top ten each with clear cards to play and points to prove.

ALTERNATIVE RECAP TO THE FIRST NINE STAGES

Stage one: Not Wurf the hassle

Former Olympic lightweight rower Cameron Wurf breaks clear on the third of four ascents but is left up s*** creek without a paddle when reeled in by the peloton 50km from the finish. For all his trouble, the Australian even misses out on the blue jersey on a technicality. Despite no team-mates and a split following a big crash, Mark Cavendish wins an explosive bunch sprint in the shadow of Vesuvius before name dropping "my good friend Paul Smith" on the podium.

Stage two: Sky turns pink for Puccio

It's not what they had planned but Salvatore Puccio takes the maglia rosa after Sky dominate the TTT on the Island of Ischia. Puccio's soupcon of red hair prompts Eurosport podcaster Scott O'Raw to speculate on the whereabouts of Sean Kelly some nine months before the rider's birth in Sicily back in 1989.

Stage three: Gesink scarpers as Scarponi sinks

While Robert Gesink keeps to form with an opening-week crash, remarkably the Dutch 'eternal hope' manages to remount and lose no time. What's more, his fall alongside Blanco team-mate Steven Kruijswick does enough to give Michele Scarponi the jitters. The 2011 champion comes off the worst and is forced to wait for a new bike, losing valuable time. By this point, Luca Paolini has taken the stage and the pink jersey. Amazingly, this is the 36-year-old's first appearance in his home tour.

Stage four: Battling Battaglin wins

GC threat Emanuele Sella falls on his sword to allow the break a chance of staying out – but the pack times it well and Bardiani Valvole's Enrico Battaglin provides a much-needed fluorescent flare for the riders to follow in apocalyptic conditions as he takes the win. The first signs of Englishman Bradley Wiggins's strange aversion to the rain becomes apparent when he loses 17 seconds in the frantic run-in.

Stage five: Moustache mayhem

German speed demon John 'Magnum P.I.' Degenkolb avoids his sprawling Argos-Shimano lead-out man on the final bend before rounding Marco Canola to open up his Giro account and show off his terrific 'tache on the podium. Do we like? Jaaaaa!

Stage six: No exhaust fumes from Cav

Cavendish makes it two wins in six days after this time benefitting from an expert lead-out by Gert Steegmans and his OPQS team. Having sworn live on air (or was that in Naples?), Cav compares his team to "the important bits and the engine" of a car before adding, humbly, that he's "just the last bit at the end – the exhaust – the bit that makes the most noise". Cav dedicates the win to the former Quick Step rider Wouter Weylandts two years to the day after the Belgian was killed while racing the 2011 Giro.

Stage seven: Skyfall

Bradley Wiggins drops out of the top 20 – and drags his Colombian lieutenants with him – after crashing on the final descent of the day in heavy rain. Adam Hansen proves stronger than Emanuele Sella from the break – and shows off his home-made carbon fibre shoes, which he sewed together with fishing tackle and a needle. It's not the first time the name 'Sella' and the word 'needle' have appeared in the same sentence – although back in 2009 circumstances were very different for the Italian CERA climber.

Stage eight: The only way is Essex

The stage that everyone expects to be won by one Briton is won by another as Bradley Wiggins suffers a puncture and finishes 10 seconds behind Alex Dowsett, a rider who was deemed surplus to requirements (like Cavendish) by Team Sky over the summer. The next day, Italian newspaper Gazzetta describes Dowsett as a dead ringer for Hugh Grant. They clearly didn't interview the Essex boy from Chelmsford, then.

Stage nine: Belkov gives his maximum

It looks like Maxim Belkov is being used as a pawn in a strange feud between Stefano Pirazzi and Robinson Chalapud, who almost come to blows after the Italian cuts up the Colombian for KOM points over the first summit of the day (TV replays show Pirazzi's block to be inadvertent – the proof is in the Chalapudding). While the two bicker, Belkov attacks on a downhill before riding off into the distance to take his first ever win as a professional. Back with the leaders, Wiggins toils all day without his Class A Colombians, but it's Ryder Hesjedal who loses time at the end, the defending champion left with a mountain to climb. Technically, many mountains. Seven summit finishes, to be precise.

PREDICTIONS FOR NEXT SIX STAGES

- Gesink will win a stage and still be in contention (although Nibali will stay in pink)
- Evans will crack on the way up to the Galibier and fall down the overall standings
- Hesjedal will win a stage but still be somewhat short of making a splash on GC
- Scarponi will ship eight minutes on Saturday's stage to Jafferau
- The succession of summit finishes will suit Wiggins (primarily because it means one less descent per day)
- Cavendish will win the stage to Treviso before calling it a day.
- We might well see more of Degankolb's moustache on Friday's stage to Cherasco – although a hungry Rafael Andriato of Vini Fantini, the peloton's only Brazilian, will put in a decent ride when mistaking the finish town for the word 'Churrasco'.
- Juan Jose Cobo will retire from the race (if he hasn't already).
- Pirazzi will be thwarted in each attempt to take mountain points by a sea of Colombia riders.
- Cayetano Sarmiento will win a stage and Emanuele Sella will crash, perhaps twice.
- Sky will dominate in the mountains and have three riders in the top five before the next rest day.

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