Bradley Wiggins' hopes of becoming Britain's first Giro d'Italia winner suffered a severe – though not definitive – setback when he skidded and crashed at high speed on a rain-soaked descent in the Abruzzo hills.
Delayed but not injured by the crash, the Sky rider crossed the line with an 84-second time loss on the other favourites, and has dropped from sixth to 23rd.
The cost, long-term, is brutally simple – Wiggins will have to turn in the ride of his life in today's crucial, long individual time trial if he is to stay in contention. And if the crash has taken a physical toll on him, it will in no way be easy to do that.
On yesterday's 177km seventh stage – won by Australian hard man Adam Hansen – through one of central Italy's wildest regions, on poorly cambered roads rendered even more lethal by the first rainfall in weeks, the accidents were waiting to happen.
First of the top riders to hit the deck on a fast, sweeping descent towards the coastal finish in Pescara was Vincenzo Nibali. The Italian regained contact with the main group but Wiggins – already in difficulty on a seemingly inoffensive minor ascent – was another story.
On a right-hand, sweeping hairpin made perilous by gravel, some 6km from the finish, Wiggins' wheels went from beneath him and he spun across the tarmac. Visibly shaken, but with Colombian team-mates Sergio Henao and Rigoberto Uran guiding him at the best speed they could through the teeming rain, Wiggins failed to regain contact with the main bunch.
The crash brought back memories of Wiggins' high-speed accident in the 2011 Tour de France, when he broke his collarbone at the end of the first week. This time he was more fortunate, but his time loss is still a significant setback.
With new race leader Benat Intxausti now leading Wiggins by 92 seconds, and all the favourites ahead of him, the importance of today's time trial in Sky's game plan has increased by several notches. But it also affects Wiggins' race long term. Rather than racing conservatively in the mountains, he will have to go on the attack. (© Independent News Service)