Team Sky lost their chance to win the Giro d'Italia overall when Mikel Landa fell ill and abandoned on Tuesday, but it says it "showed its riders are still in the race" with Mikel Nieve's win on stage 13 in Cividale del Friuli.
Nieve escaped with 25 others in the stage through Italy's northeast region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia and dropped his last companion, former Team Sky rider Joe Dombrowski (Cannondale) on the second to last climb. He won by 48 seconds over Giovanni Visconti (Movistar).
"We went into the rest day thinking we were in really good position, so to lose the leader the day after is a big blow," Sports Director Dario Cioni told Cycling Weekly.
"At times you're down on the ground, it's really important to show you can react. This win also shows that the team we had here to support Mikel Landa would've been good enough for Mikel. We showed we are still in the race."
Looking back at the first week of the Giro d'Italia
“It’s a big boost of morale for the team after what happened to Mikel,” Nieve added. “We had to hit the reset button, so to win the stage so soon after what happened, it gives us some tranquillity.
“It was a real blow about what happened to Mikel. We came here to win the Giro, not just win stages. Well, that’s cycling. If Mikel had still been in the race, I would be working for him, not sitting here right now.”
Nieve won his second stage in the Giro d'Italia after the Gardeccia mountaintop win in 2011, when the Basque climber raced for home team Euskaltel-Euskadi.
Team Sky signed him to support Chris Froome in the Tour de France, but also to fill in at other times. The team's brass called Nieve at the last minute to support his former Euskaltel team-mate in the Giro when Sergio Henao had to be pulled with biological passport questions.
"I'm sure Landa will have sent him a message of congratulations,” Cioni continued. “Mikel wasn't meant to be in the Giro, we asked him to come because we needed climber. He said 'yes' and we told he would have his chances if they came and we would not try to kill him on the other stages. We lacked our leader, but we come away with one of the hardest stage wins. There are a few more to come, so who knows."
The Giro d'Italia faces one of its toughest stages on Saturday with six categorised climbs, five above 2000 metres. The race travels over the next week to the west and ends in Turin on Sunday.
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