Sunny summer days must have felt a million miles away to the riders of the 2018 Tour of Guangxi peloton on stage 2 of the race on Wednesday. Torrential rain began to fall an hour into the three-hour, 145.2km stage from Beihai to Qinzhou, causing crashes and abandons.
While Bora-Hansgrohe's Pascal Ackermann made short work of the conditions to win the stage in a bunch sprint, Richie Porte ended his career with BMC Racing by abandoning on the stage, and will next be seen in the colours of Trek-Segafredo in 2019.
"I think the stage unfolded how we expected it would, even without the heavy rain before the bunch sprint, and in that sense it was a relatively straightforward day," BMC directeur sportif Jackson Stewart said on the team's website. "The weather definitely made it a difficult day for everyone in the peloton, though.
"No, he didn’t say anything really," Stewart said with regards to Porte's abandon. "We didn't plan on Richie stopping and, of course, it's now not ideal to be down to five riders, but we'll continue to push on and see what we can get out of the next four stages."
The stage was animated by a four-man breakaway made up of Andrey Grivko (Astana), UAE Team Emirates' Yousif Mirza, Chun-Kai Feng (Bahrain-Merida), Quick-Step's Rémi Cavagna and Great Britain's Alex Dowsett (Katusha-Alpecin).
The quintet worked well together, but as the weather conditions continued to take their toll, Cavagna pushed on alone, and was only finally caught inside the last four kilometres, where Ackermann's Bora-Hansgrohe team took over.
Cavagna's Quick-Step teammate Fabio Jakobsen took second in the sprint, but another teammate, Jhonatan Narvaez, was much more unlucky, crashing into a race car on the wet roads with 40 kilometres to go when returning to the peloton after a nature break.
The team reported that after abandoning the race and being taken to hospital for scans, Narvaez was found not to have fractured anything, but muscular bleeding from bruising on his leg means the end of the season for the Ecuadorian.
"We were once again prominent, and this gives us confidence for the next few days, but it's a pity we lost Jhonatan, who was in good condition here, and could have helped us over the remaining stages," said Quick-Step directeur sportif Geert Van Bondt.
"Rémi was one of the strongest riders today and the only survivor of the breakaway. He fought hard and really believed in his chances, doing a fantastic race. Then, as soon as he got caught, all the guys stayed around Fabio and brought him to the front, while also protecting him on those wide roads, which always make for a hectic sprint.
"He was very close, and this podium only shows how motivated he is and the good shape he has, which makes us optimistic for the remaining flat stages."
While no one and nothing could rain on Ackermann's parade, third place in the sprint was good enough for LottoNL-Jumbo's Dylan Groenewegen to retain the race lead he took after winning the opening stage on Tuesday.
"Dylan started his sprint with 250 metres to go, but that was too early," LottoNL-Jumbo directeur sportif Grischa Niermann said. "Ackermann and Jakobsen passed him in the last 25 metres.
"It was pretty cold and it was raining all day," he said, "and afterwards Dylan said that the weather conditions had had an impact on his legs."