Strong winds struck Tuscany on Saturday afternoon, and it started to gust violently when the race hit the fifth sector of gravel after around 80 kilometres of racing.
Halfway through the long sector at Lucignano d'Asso, the gravel track opened out and exposed itself to the wind that was blowing directly from the right. It caused chaos, with a huge amount of riders hitting the deck, and some of them blown fully off the road.
Alaphilippe unclipped his right foot as he sought balance, but an Alpecin-Fenix rider then crashed in front of him, and he was sent flying over his handlebars. Remarkably, he hit the ground and then almost bounced back up, and was blown through the air into the field on the left-hand side of the road.
"I don't know what happened at the fall. There was a lot of wind, which made it very dangerous. I think someone went down in front of me, making it impossible for me to avoid the crash. I've hurt my back," Alaphilippe explained at the finish in Siena.
"I don't think there was really much we could do against Pogacar. He was really in great shape."
There were similar scenes throughout the strung-out bunch, with riders being blown clean off the road. Michael Matthews (BikeExchange-Jayco) was also caught up and could be seen recuperating with several teammates surrounding him, but his team later reported that he had been forced to abandon.
The pile-up split the race to pieces. However, it did later reform to some extent.
Alaphilippe took a while to get going and was forced into a long chase. He initially found himself in a group of 10 but that soon swelled as he found support from Movistar, whose leader Alejandro Valverde was also brought down in the crash.
Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) narrowly avoided the crash and briefly slipped clear in a small group that clipped off the front as the chaos was unfurling behind.
They were caught by a larger group to form a reduced bunch, while the Alaphilippe group eventually got back in with 75 kilometres to go after 25 kilometres of hard chasing. From there, Alaphilippe switched to a support role for teammate Kasper Asgreen, who went on to place third. The world champion said he'd hurt his back but managed to finish the race in 58th place.
As well as Matthews, the crash ended the race for several other riders. 2018 champion Tiesj Benoot (Jumbo-Visma) was among the high-profile abandons, while Bahrain Victorious lost Matej Mohorič, and Alpecin-Fenix lost last year’s sixth-place finisher Michael Gogl as well as Stefano Oldani and Gianni Vermeersch
Lotto Soudal lost Victor Campenaerts and Brent Van Moer, while Ineos Grenadiers reported the abandon of Salvatore Puccio after suffering "lacerations" in the crash.
This is insane. pic.twitter.com/3n4oM5c41EMarch 5, 2022
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