American Taylor Phinney joked earlier this week that the Eneco Tour is "also known as The Russian Roulette Race of Benelux", and today both he and his BMC teammate Philippe Gilbert found the chamber with the bullet and are out of the race.
Despite stages riddled with cross-winds, roundabouts, traffic furniture and cobbles, it was a touch of wheels on a straight, flat road with 60km to go that took down the pair along with teammate Daniel Oss and several others.
Both Gilbert and Phinney suffered wounds to their left knees: Phinney left the race immediately after the crash, while Gilbert chased his way to 22nd on the stage, 1:37 behind winner David Lopez of Team Sky. The world champion later visited the hospital for a closer examination of his knee, and it was determined that the wound required stitches, and he will not start the final stage.
Phinney, who was yesterday disappointed to not have a better performance in the time trial, but still had ambitions at taking the overall classification in the Eneco Tour, now says he is just "happy to come away with nothing too serious", with the world championships just a month away.
"We had to make sure I had no fractures," he said on Saturday evening. "It was probably a bit of a bone bruise on the patella and then some road rash. I have maybe three or four days I'm meant to keep easy and be taking care of it, then hopefully I'll be good after that. ... I'm not happy to leave the race, but these things happen."
Phinney and Oss nearly avoided the melee, which according to Phinney began with a touch of wheels between new Omega Pharma-QuickStep lead-out man Alessandro Petacchi and Gabriel Rasch (Sky). The crash dropped riders like dominoes, but it was impact from behind that led to Phinney's crash.
"Oss and I were going left and I thought we were going to make it but I think someone hit me from behind. I flipped over and took all of the impact right on my left knee. I felt it immediately. ... I was a bit in shock for a minute or two because it was very painful. Then I looked around and saw half the team was also on the ground, so it was not very good for us."
While his teammates got up and banded together to help Gilbert get back into the race, Phinney was moved to the side of the road to have his knee bandaged.
"I couldn't bend my leg, it was too painful. I got on the bike ... but it was impossible to ride."