Bradley Wiggins’ Giro d’Italia victory hopes suffered a further setback Sunday on a dramatic ninth stage that saw Canada’s defending champion Ryder Hesjedal lose time to overall leader Vincenzo Nibali.
Katusha rider Maxim Belkov took the honours after leaving his companions from an early breakaway behind in the latter stages of the 170 km ride from Sansepolcro and Florence. For 28-year-old Belkov, who hails from Izhevsk, famous for the production of Kalashnikov rifles, it was the first major victory of a career which began in 2009.
The real drama, however, was going on in the Russian’s wake. Astana team leader Nibali retained the race leader’s pink jersey but a day after losing only 11 seconds to Wiggins in a 54.8 km time trial the Italian saw Wiggins struggle on the wet and slippery descent of the race’s first category one climb, the Vallembrosa. The Briton was left trailing and had to be paced back to the main peloton during a frantic 20 km pursuit by three of his Sky teammates. In the end Wiggins lost no time to his key rivals but revealed another chink in his armor which, during his triumphant Tour de France campaign, was virtually impregnable.
The day’s biggest loser was Garmin team leader Hesjedal, who struggled late in the stage and, after losing over one minute to his rivals, dropped from sixth overall to 11th to sit 3:11 behind Nibali.
Sunday’s hilly course was staged on much of the route which will be used for the world road race championships in Tuscany later this year.