Giro d’Italia: Wiggins maintains fourth place

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PRE-RACE favourite Bradley Wiggins endured another difficult day on a rain-lashed ninth stage of the Giro d’Italia although defending champion Ryder Hesjedal suffered most, dropping to 11th overall.

Britain’s Wiggins, who crashed on a descent on Friday, remained fourth overall, one minute and 16 seconds behind leader Vincenzo Nibali despite for a time losing contact with the Italian and the other contenders on a technical downhill section about 55 km from yesterday’s stage finish in Firenze.

Following a 20-km chase by Wiggins’ Sky team, the 2012 Tour de France winner managed to regain contact with the group.

“I was racing right behind him,” Italian rider Giovanni Visconti told reporters. “I could see he was handling the descents very badly. I think when it comes to descents he’s now got some kind of mental block.”

However, Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford said Wiggins’s apparent caution on the downhill sections was never a concern.

“Bradley took it a bit cautiously on that descent and then obviously was confident his team mates would help him regain contact,” he told reporters. “There was never a problem.”

Hesjedal had been sixth overall going into the stage through the hills around Firenze, which was taken by Maxim Belkov.

Hesjedal dropped back on the short climb of Fiesole close to the finish and lost 66 seconds on the other overall favourites.

As the race reaches its first rest day today, Nibali leads by 29 seconds from Cadel Evans, with Robert Gesink in third at 1:15, while Hesjedal trails the leader by 3:11.

The Giro next hits the mountains with the race’s first major summit finish tomorrow at Altopiano di Montasio in north-east Italy.