TREVISO, Italy (AFP) — The Giro d’Italia lost its defending champion and its reigning Tour de France champion on Friday when Bradley Wiggins (Sky) and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) withdrew from the race.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Hesjedal in a team press release. “I want to be here for my team and for all the people who have supported me to get me here to this point. I built my entire season around the Giro and I came here feeling great, but I have been suffering since the TT. We’re working on it, but we’re not sure what’s wrong. There’s a virus that’s been going around, so it could be that, or severe allergies, or going too deep on the TT combined with both — whatever it is, I’m only getting worse. Yesterday’s stage was just too much for me. I fought to get through it and I know everyone suffered but after seeing the medical staff last night, I also know that it’s time for me to go home.”
Hesjedal won the 2012 Giro over Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha). He had entered the 96th edition a pre-race favorite and attacked multiple times in the opening week. Things went south for the Canadian on Sunday, however, and he lost contact with the front of the race. Hesjedal lost more than 20 minutes on Wednesday.
“The athlete’s health is our priority,” said team doctor Shannon Sovndal. “We’ve been trying to uncover what’s going on with Ryder. He came into the race in stellar form, ready to defend his title, and clearly he’s been suffering since the TT. His condition is not improving, so we decided it’s time for him to go home, get testing done, and focus on getting healthy again.”
Sky said the team made its decision to withdraw Wiggins before the start of the 13th stage “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 Italian grand tour.
But he dropped more than three minutes off the pace during Thursday’s 12th stage, struggling on a slippery descent and subsequent flat run-in to the finish, and came through more than three minutes behind overall leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
“We monitored Bradley overnight and this morning we’ve withdrawn him from the Giro after consulting the team doctor,” team principal David Brailsford said in a team statement. “Bradley will return to the U.K. today for treatment and to rest and we hope to have him back on the road as soon as possible.