Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) endured another difficult day at the Giro d’Italia but remains fourth overall after stage nine, won by Maxim Belkov (Katusha).
The Tour de France champion, who gave his title bid a shot in the arm with a second place finish in Saturday’s individual time trial, once again struggled to cope with the treacherous combination of heavy rain and twisting descents and slipped off the back of the peloton with 60km remaining.
But, having been paced back to the peloton by his team-mates, Wiggins recovered to finish with the pink jersey group in Florence. The Team Sky leader remains one minute and 16 seconds behind race leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
Belkov won the stage from the breakaway, finishing 44 seconds ahead of Carlos Betancur (Ag2r La Mondiale), who crossed the line arms aloft thinking he had won after outsprinting Jarlinson Pantano (Colombia) for second.
Team Sky directeur sportif: Marcus Ljungqvist said: “The stage worked out well in the end. The guys raced as a team, didn’t panic and that was the key.
“We were able to chase down the gap and at the end of the day we’ve moved up the GC with Rigoberto [Uran] and Sergio [Henao]. We have to be happy with that after a hard stage like this.”
Belkov was part of a 12-man breakaway and the Russian attacked on the descent of the category one Vallombrosa, the second of four categorised climbs in the 170km stage, before riding solo to the finish.
It was on the same descent that Wiggins was put into difficulty. The 33-year-old, who lost time on stage seven after crashing on wet roads, had his frailties exposed once again after Astana, BMC and Garmin-Sharp combined to set a fierce pace on the long downhill.
Wiggins trailed the group by more than a minute by the bottom of the descent but eventually regained contact after a 20km chase which involved all the 33-year-old’s team-mates, except Colombian duo Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Uran, who moved up to the sixth and ninth respectively at the end of the stage.
Instead it was defending champion Ryder Hesjedal who saw his hopes of winning a second consecutive Giro evaporate. The Canadian, whose team-mates had earlier contributed to the pace-setting which exposed Wiggins, was dropped on the final climb and finished more than a minute behind the group which contained all the other leading contenders.
Nibali continues to lead the race by 29 seconds from Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) going into Monday’s rest day, with Robert Gesink (Blanco Pro Cycling) one minute and 15 seconds back in third, one second ahead of Wiggins.
Giro d’Italia 2013 – stage nine – result
1) Maxim Belkov (RUS) – Katusha – 4:31:31 hours
2) Carlos Betancur (COL) – Ag2r La Mondiale +44″
3) Jarlinson Pantano (COL) – Colombia +46″
4) Tobias Ludvigsson (SWE) – Argos-Shimano +54″
5) Cadel Evans (AUS) – BMC Racing +1’03”
6) Benat Intxausti (SPA) – Movistar – same time
7) Danilo Di Luca (ITA) – Vini Fantini-Selle Italia
8) Mauro Santambrogio (ITA) – Vini Fantini-Selle Italia
9) Damiano Caruso (ITA) – Cannondale Pro Cycling
10) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) Astana Pro Team
1) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) – Astana – 34:19:31 hours
2) Cadel Evans (AUS) – BMC Racing +29″
3) Robert Gesink (NED) – Blanco Pro +1’15”
4) Bradley Wiggins (GBR) – Team Sky +1’16”
5) Michele Scarponi (ITA) – Lampre-Merida +1’24”
6) Sergio Henao (COL) – Team Sky +2’11”
7) Mauro Santambrogio (ITA) – Vini Fantini-Selle Italia +2’43”
8) Przemyslaw Niemiec (POL) – Lampre-Merida +2’44”
9) Rigoberto Uran (COL) – Team Sky +2’49”
10) Tanel Kangert (EST) – Astana +3’02”