It was a nightmare day for FDJ-Suez-Futuroscope on stage 2 of the Tour de France Femmes, as Cecilie Uttrup Ludwig crashed out of overall contention and Marta Cavalli crashed out of the race altogether.
The French team's two leaders both hit the deck as a spate of crashes caused chaos in the windswept final kilometres of the stage to Provins.
It was Cavalli, the Giro Donne runner-up and one of the pre-race favourites, who went down first and came off worst in a crash that was horrific to watch. With 25km to go, there was a spill in the peloton and, despite her slowing to avoid the pile-up, the Italian was taken out from behind by another rider.
Australian national champion Nicole Frain (Parkhotel-Valkenburg) was returning to the bunch from a previous crash and apparently did not see the subsequent pile-up in front of her, careering into Cavalli and taking the Italian's bike from under her.
Cavalli, who landed on her back, remained on the ground for a few minutes and then got up and even remounted to carry on riding. However, it was soon decided she could not continue in the race and she stopped with tears on her face.
"It was a big impact. It's hard, we don't want to play [around]," said team manager Stephen Delcourt emotionally after the stage.
"She hesitated and wanted to continue but the team said no, we don't want to play with the life of a rider. Cycling is just part of life, not the priority."
The team later announced that Cavalli remained under medical supervision after sustaining a head injury.
"OK, we maybe lose a battle for the race but the most important thing is Marta and we support her as a priority, and for the sport we come back stronger tomorrow."
Delcourt confirmed that Cavalli was on her way to hospital for scans that will reveal the extent of her injuries.
"It's really hard to see images like that. Can you imagine if it's a member of your family when you see that," he asked.
"Marta was not in a good position, she didn't want to take risks at that period [of the race]. One rider came back after a crash, she didn't see Marta in the second crash, and she arrives at 50kph and boom. I have no words. When you see images like this, it's really hard."
Fewer than five kilometres later, FDJ's co-leader, Uttrup Ludwig was on the deck, in another crash in the peloton. The Danish champion was not as seriously injured and remounted to launch a desperate chase with her remaining teammates.
They never made contact with the main bunch, which itself finished half a minute down on a dangerous late break that featured overall contenders in Elisa Longo Borghini and Kasia Niewiadoma.
Uttrup Ludwig lost around 90 seconds to the pair, and 1:04 to pre-race favourite Annemiek van Vleuten, who finished in the main bunch.
Thank you for reading 5 articles in the past 30 days*
Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read any 5 articles for free in each 30-day period, this automatically resets
After your trial you will be billed £4.99 $7.99 €5.99 per month, cancel anytime. Or sign up for one year for just £49 $79 €59
Join now for unlimited access
Try your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
Get The Leadout Newsletter
The latest race content, interviews, features, reviews and expert buying guides, direct to your inbox!
Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist, and former deputy editor of Cyclingnews, who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.
- Kirsten FrattiniDeputy Editor