An early crash on stage 11 of the Vuelta a España saw an injured Chris Froome (Sky) bravely finish the stage nine minutes down on winner Mikel Landa (Astana), but with his chances of taking a Tour-Vuelta double victory suffering a huge blow.
Froome is now 15th overall, seven and a half minutes back on new race leader Fabio Aru and with a question mark hanging over the Briton's condition following a crash that injured his shoulder and grazed one of his knees.
A crash so early on a mountain stage would have been unfortunate for any rider, but coming so early in the day labelled by Froome and others as the hardest they would ever have to tackle in a Grand Tour, this was misfortune on a large scale.
The stage was barely underway before Spanish television commentators on a motorbike shouted “¡Caida [Crash] de Chris Froome! ¡Caida de Chris Froome!”
The next images showed Froome dismounted and moving stiffly as he assessed the damage caused by a crash just before a left-hand bend.
Sky and Froome attempted to limit the damage by putting the team on the front on the Coll d'Ordino and Col de la Rabassa, but on the Collada de la Gallina, some 45km from the line, the Briton was clearly in serious trouble and began losing time fast.
Guided on the climbs and descents by Geraint Thomas, Froome tenaciously fought back to limit the damage, soloing across the line nine minutes down and clearly in pain.
"All I could do was ride at my own speed after the crash," the double Tour winner said afterwards, "I'm in quite a lot of pain at the moment."
"I'm going to get checked up by the medical staff and take it from there. That crash did take quite a lot out of me. From then on I just tried to hang on for dear life. I convinced myself just to get to the finish."
Froome praised his teammates for working hard to limit the damage, whilst young American Sky rider Ian Boswell took an impressive third place and Mikel Nieve, seventh on the stage, remains in eighth overall. "That gave me a lot of morale to push on," Froome said.
Nieve commented on the day in an interview with Spanish radio.
"It was difficult, Chris had a bad day and after that crash at the start, it all went awry," Nieve said. "On days like these that are so tough, even a small setback can make a big difference. It's been a hard day for the team."
Teammate Nicolas Roche, also previously well placed overall but injured two days ago, lost nearly 15 minutes on the stage.
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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