Bradley Wiggins (Sky) has already dealt with his share of difficulties in this year's Giro d'Italia, which has yet to enter the high mountains. His quest for the leader's pink jersey appears to be much more challenging than last year's Tour de France win.
"I never expected it to be as straightforward as the Tour last year," Wiggins told a couple of journalists, including Cycling Weekly. "It's been a tough challenge, be we knew it'd be that way."
Ahead of the first high-mountain stage tomorrow to Altopiano del Montasio, Wiggins sits fourth overall at 1-16 minutes from Italy's best stage racer, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
Most observers expected more when the race pushed off from the south in Naples. Wiggins' team dominated the team time trial in Ischia and gained time: 14" to Nibali, 22" to Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida), 25" to Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) and 28" to Robert Gesink (Blanco).
Those gains slipped away when the race rolled on. Hesjedal and Evans sneaked away for bonus second in Marina di Ascea and Wiggins slipped back 17 seconds due to inattention on the Serra San Bruno climb.
The biggest disappointments were yet to come.
Like many others, Wiggins crashed on the wet Abruzzese roads leading to Pescara. His bike handling skills, however, compounded the problem. Before he hit the deck, he was losing ground to his rivals.
"I drifted a little bit too far back on the second last climb - there was a downhill section in the middle of the climb - I just wasn't taking the risks," Wiggins said.
"I kind of was willing to move up a bit on the climbs and then we came down the descent into he last climb and there were a few crashes ahead of me which slowed me down. So I was already off the back of the group - and then in doing that, trying to chase harder, [I] crashed anyway. [Laughs - ed.]"
Wiggins punctured in the time trial the next day, which not only prevented him from gaining GC time but also stopped him from topping Alex Dowsett (Movistar) for the stage win. He called it a 'disappointment'.
"But then after when we broke it all down and [had] seen the numbers I was producing like that, I was physically better than I've ever been, which also makes it a bit more disappointing."
The problems from Pescara to central Italy in Florence, highlighted a potential Wiggins' potential downfall.
"Let's be honest," he added, "I descended like a bit of a girl really after the crash... Not to disrespect girls, I have one at home. But that's life and we have to push on and deal with the disappointments."
Nibali, who placed third in the Tour last year, time trialled his way into the pink jersey on Saturday. He leads Evans by 29", Gesink by 1-15 minutes, Wiggins by 1-16, Scarponi by 1-24. Defending champion, Hesjedal sits at 3-11.
Home favourite, Nibali has been riding aggressively since the start. He pushed the pace on the Pescara and yesterday's stage, both times seeing Wiggins lose touch on wet roads.
"He will continue to ride aggressively. I can't see him trying to defend 30 seconds from now until Brescia," Wiggins added.
"Cadel is the best I've seen him since he won the Tour. He is the danger-man in that position. He showed [in the TT] he is in good shape. I was a bit surprised about Ryder."
Altopiano del Montasio
The climb to Altopiano del Montasio, tucked away in Italy's northeast, could rock the entire GC order tomorrow. Enzo Cainero, the founder of Monte Zoncolan and Crostis, introduced it to the Giro organiser and helped to bring about its debut this year.
The climb rises above Sella Nevea, which already sits at 1143 metres, and continues 10.4km until 1502 metres. The road kicks up to 20 per cent right away and averages 7.8 per cent.
Wiggins previewed it last month.
"It will be one of the toughest finishes of this Giro, that's for sure," said Wiggins. "The race could tip upside down again."
Giro d'Italia 2013: Previews and race info
Giro d'Italia 2013: Coverage index
Giro d'Italia 2013: British TV schedule
Giro 2013: 10 things you need to know
Giro d'Italia 2013: The Big Preview
Giro d'Italia 2013: Stage reports
Stage nine: Belkov takes solo win as Wiggins put under pressure
Stage eight: Dowsett wins as Nibali takes race lead
Stage seven: Wiggins crashes as Hansen wins
Stage six: Cavendish wins stage six of Giro
Stage five: Degenkolb avoids crash to take win
Stage four: Battaglin sprints to first Giro stage win
Stage three: Paolini takes charge
Stage two: Sky wins team time trial
Stage one: Cavendish wins opener
Giro d'Italia 2013: Photo galleries
Photos by Graham Watson
Stage nine gallery
Stage eight gallery
Stage seven gallery
Stage six gallery
Stage five gallery
Stage four gallery
Stage three gallery
Stage two gallery
Stage one gallery
Team presentation gallery
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