Katusha's hopes of victory in the Giro d'Italia have ended in a welter of crashes and injuries during Thursday's stage 6 which saw their team leader Joaquim Rodriguez finish nearly eight minutes down, whilst support riders Gianpaolo Caruso and Angel Vicioso have both abandoned the race.
"For the us the battle for the general classification is over," team sports director Jose Azevedo told reporters at the finish.
The runner-up overall in 2012 and one of the top favourites for the Giro, Rodriguez was already on the backfoot after a poor team time trial by Katusha in Belfast on stage 1. But on stage 6, as the rain teemed down on the approach roads to the summit finish at Montecassino - which would have been an objective for the Catalan climber - things got far worse.
Along with a hefty percentage of the field, Rodriguez was caught up in the big, high-speed, crash that split the race apart with 11 kilometres to go. Grimacing visibly and riding with one team-mate for support behind the main pack, Rodriguez then fought hard to get back on, but eventually crossed the line in 89th place, 7:43 down.
Rodriguez has reportedly suffered grazes in one elbow and knee, road rash in both hips and has also, according to an official race bulletin, a broken rib - the same area of his body he hurt in the Amstel Gold this spring - and a broken finger. He has headed to hospital for a checkup and after a further assessment of his condition on Friday morning will decide whether he continues in the race.
As if that was not bad enough for Katusha, Rodriguez teammates Angel Vicioso, winner of a stage in the Giro in 2011, and Giapaolo Caruso, already riding with a broken scaphoid since stage 2 of the race, both had to abandon. According to an official medical bulletin, Vicioso has a compound fracture in his right hip and heavy bruising in his left, whilst Caruso, stretchered away from the crash after he lay prone on the ground for several minutes, has severe bruising in his left hip.
"It's a day to forget, we came here with the objective of winning then the big crash has seen 40 riders down and a lot of our riders fell, too," Azevedo said. At that point the Portuguese director was not sure of Caruso's injuries, but as he said, "after breaking his scaphoid, it's over." And as Azevedo recognised, so, too, are Katusha's GC hopes.
Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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