The Giro d'Italia is the most unpredictable Grand Tour in professional cycling and proved to be the cruellest during stage 19 to Risoul with both race leader Steven Kruijswijk (Lotto-NL-Jumbo) and Russian Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) crashing on the descent of the massive Colle dell'Agnello.
Kruijswijk was fortunate to hit a snow bank at the start of the descent. He got up and fought hard to defend his lead but lost the pink jersey to Esteban Chaves (Orica-GreenEdge).
Zakarin was more unfortunate. He crashed hard on a fast part of the descent and his Giro d'Italia ended there and then. He went off road on a turn and fell several metres into a culvert. For a few moments he didn't seem to move but was soon reached by medical staff. He was taken to hospital in Briançon, with x-rays confirming he had fractured his left collarbone and the scapula in his left shoulder. Further scans ruled out any damage to his lungs, according to the race communique.
Eduard Grosu (Nippo Vini Fantini) also crashed at the same time but managed to finish the stage last of the 157 riders in the race at 37:16, before also being taken to hospital in Briançon for a full check up. Other riders to lose skin on a hard day in the saddle were Bakhtivar Kozhatayev (Astana) and Ireland's Nicolas Roche (Team Sky) but they are set to ride on Saturday.
Zakarin was lying fifth overall after an impressive Giro d'Italia. He crashed twice during the rain-soaked Chianti time trial on stage 9 but had fought back and was in the hunt for a place on the final podium in Turin on Sunday. He had been slightly distanced by Nibali, Kruijswijk and Chaves near the summit of the Cole dell'Agnello but was working to close the gap when his race ended in a second.
"It is such terrible bad luck for Ilnur and for our whole team," Katusha directeur sportif Dimitri Konychev said post-stage.
"It was a technical downhill and Ilnur was going fast to catch the leaders. Of course he risked a bit and crashes happen in cycling. There is nothing we can do. It was a big fall, he fell about 20 metres. The doctors didn't want to move him at first but was conscious and talking.
"It was clear that anything could have happened during these two final stages in the high mountains. Somebody gets good luck, somebody gets bad luck. Unfortunately it was Ilnur who had bad luck today, along with the pink jersey."