TREVISO, Italy (AFP) –
Bradley Wiggins, winner of last year’s Tour de France, has pulled out of the Giro d’Italia due to illness, his team announced on Friday, ending a torrid race for the popular Briton.
Team Sky said a decision was taken to withdraw the 33-year-old before the start of the 13th stage from Busseto to Cherasco in northern Italy “due to a worsening chest infection”.
Wiggins had struggled in the race after a head cold turned into a chest infection and admitted on Thursday that he did not feel well.
Weather conditions, as well as the hilly Giro course, worked against Wiggins, who had hoped to become the first Briton to win the famous grand tour after his victory in France last year.
But he dropped more than three minutes off the pace during Thursday’s 12th stage, struggling on a slippery descent to finish in 13th place overall, 5min 22sec behind the current leader, Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali, of Astana.
The stage was won by former world champion and ex-Sky rider Mark Cavendish.
“We monitored Bradley overnight and this morning we’ve withdrawn him from the Giro after consulting the team doctor,” team principal Dave Brailsford was quoted as saying on teamsky.com.
“Bradley will return to the UK today for treatment and to rest and we hope to have him back on the road as soon as possible,” he said.
At 254 kilometres (158 miles), Friday’s 13th stage is the longest of the race, from Busseto, the birthplace of composer Giuseppe Verdi, to Cherasco.
The Giro d’Italia is one of cycling’s most prestigious races and Wiggins had made winning the “maglia rosa” or pink jersey his primary objective before the sport’s biggest showpiece, the Tour de France in July.
But despite going into the race without a hitch, he found the going tougher than expected.
The former track cyclist notably lost time in the early stages, falling on the seventh stage to Pescara and found himself unable to break free on descents made even more treacherous by bad weather.
Last year’s Olympic time-trial gold medallist was disappointed by being unable to regain time against the clock in the eighth stage in Saltara, finishing 10secs behind his former team-mate, Briton Alex Dowsett.
As a result, he was only able to claw back a few seconds on Nibali, who is 41sec ahead of Australia’s Cadel Evans.
Wiggins’ position became even more precarious on the hilly 10th stage finishing on Altopiano del Montasio, where he lagged 37secs behind his supposed lieutenant, Colombian Rigoberto Uran.
The stage and difficult conditions also saw defending champion Ryder Hesjedal of Canada withdraw after dropping to more than 30mins off the lead.
Londoner Wiggins will now head home for treatment, with the start of the 100th edition of the Tour de France just over a month away.
Team Sky, which has eight riders left in the Giro, will now work for Uran, who is 2min 12secs back on Nibali in third.
Any defence of Wiggins’ Tour de France crown looks a tall order, with the 100th edition of the race packed with mountain stages that and unlikely to be suited to Wiggins’ style.
In a role reversal from last year, he will work for team-mate and 2012 runner-up Chris Froome, who looks likely to be one of the favourites, with Spain’s Alberto Contador.Published 17 May 2013, 14:46 IST