Out of control

Control. Control is what Bradley Wiggins needs, what he had at last year's Tour de France, but which is now proving as slippery as an Italian descent.

Last Updated: 13/05/13 at 16:47 Post Comment

Wiggins (right): has suffered on wet roads in Italy

Wiggins (right): has suffered on wet roads in Italy

Given all that has happened in the opening eight days of the Giro d'Italia, it is a little remarkable that Wiggins still finds himself in contention at the start of the second week.

He is fourth, just over a minute down on Vincenzo Nibali, who may yet regret not putting him to the sword when he might have had a chance on the rain-sodden descents that exposed Wiggins' vulnerability on stages seven and nine.

For Wiggins, there seem echoes of 2010 and the Tour de France he started with such high expectations - and such huge pressure - only to wobble on day one.

Back then, the heavens opened just before he began his prologue in Rotterdam, and though he later insisted his "numbers were as good as they've ever been," he appeared to suffer an attack of the yips.

"It wasn't the speed he was taking the corners at," said Sean Yates, who followed Wiggins in the team car. "It was the way he was taking them. You could see his upper body was tensed up. He just wasn't in it at all."

Losing so much time in the discipline that was supposed to be his speciality was a hammer-blow to Wiggins' self-belief. He didn't seem to recover from that.

Now, it is no criticism of Wiggins to observe that he has lost his bottle on the descents: he admitted this himself after Sunday's stage to Florence, which again saw him losing ground going downhill, and having to make big, costly efforts to close gaps and regain groups when the road flattened or rose.

Those who are critical of Wiggins' descending have perhaps never fallen off a bike. He crashed on Friday, and although he wasn't seriously injured, it would have hurt and given him an uncomfortable night. Falling off is always frightening and painful and it would be abnormal if it didn't affect the confidence.

Confidence

Wiggins thrives on confidence but also on being in control. He hates being faced with an external threat. Consider his reaction to last year's 'attack' by Chris Froome on the climb of La Toussuire, following which he threatened to go home, despite leading the race, and appearing - one potentially renegade teammate apart - completely in control.

Here at the Giro, it's not just the crash - not just one thing.

The weather, mechanical problems, questions over the loyalty of his Colombian teammates, Rigoberto Uran and Sergio Henao (with the former rumoured to have agreed to join Omega Pharma-Quick-Step at the end of the year, and the latter perhaps also on his way), and some fired-up, aggressive and in-form opponents have all conspired against Wiggins.

His team talks of the 'aggregation of marginal gains,' but at the Giro he seems up against the 'accumulation of minor set-backs.'

But the Giro can be like this: anarchic and unpredictable. Wiggins began last year's Tour with such momentum that he seemed unbeatable, and, most importantly, seemed to believe that himself.

Neutered

Some thought the Tour boring, which is perhaps unfair, but it was strangely neutered and Team Sky were able to control it. Nibali and Evans, theoretically Wiggins' main rivals last year, are proving to be very different opponents at this Giro.

There is still a long way to go. The weather and brutality of the opening week could still take a toll over the three weeks. But just as the momentum seemed to propel Wiggins to victory in Paris, the headwind he is now riding into in Italy could prove impossible to overcome.

But it has so far been a great race, and even if Wiggins doesn't turn his Giro around, he has contributed hugely, if unwittingly, to the intrigue.

And yet, as compelling as his turmoil has been, it is a great pity that his second place in Saturday's time trial seemed to overshadow the performance of the winner, Alex Dowsett.

What a story Dowsett's victory was - or should have been. He became the first haemophiliac winner of a Grand Tour stage, and is totally vindicated in leaving Team Sky in search of opportunities to start Grand Tours.

Here I have spent an entire column discussing Wiggins, and so am also guilty of not giving 24-year-old Dowsett, only the 16th British rider to win a Grand Tour stage, the credit he deserves. I will return to him in a future blog.

Twitter.com/richardmoore73

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