The riders of the Vuelta a Espana boarded airplanes bound for sunnier climes on Tuesday evening, and the departure from a rainy and cold day in Belgium en route to balmy Spain did not come soon enough for most of the peloton.
The dreary fourth stage from Venlo to Liège looked every bit like the Spring Classics from which much of the parcours was devised. It was one that had riders on alert for dangerous conditions even if it were to be dry, but a soaking rain after a long dry spell turned the narrow, round-about filled roads into skating rinks leading to many crashes.
Team Saxo Bank's young hopeful Jakob Fuglsang had one of the most frightful crashes of the day when he ran into a parked tractor-trailor. He was able to return to the peloton after the wreck and intends to continue, despite having serious injuries.
"We were riding close to protect me from the wind and I was the last rider on the range," explained Fuglsang. "I kept shouting to the others that they should pull to the left. Suddenly, the riders at the front make a right turn, so I was pushed into a truck on the side of the road.
"My left tibia was cut clean open by a spoke. A clean cut but it reaches to the bone which means that I later tonight will be having stitches. Paradoxically, I am sore on my right side which I landed on."
Xacobeo-Galicia was also hit hard by the wrecks, with Gustavo Dominguez suffering a deep cut to his right leg, Gustavo Veloso injuring his foot and GC favourite Ezequiel Mosquera hurting his ankle and hip.
Mosquera feared he had broken his ankle, but after the immediate pain had subsided, he was able to move his foot and thinks he will be able to continue. He was helped to the line by his teammates, barely pedaling as he was pushed across the finish.
The Cervelo TestTeam had the majority of its squad go down in the massive pile-up which happened just inside the 3km to go banner.
"We had [Simon] Gerrans, [Phillip] Deignan, [Roger] Hammond, [Dominique] Rollin and [Gabriel] Rasch involved in the final crash, but none of them are seriously injured and all should be able to continue in the Vuelta without any problems," said sport director Alex Sans Vega. "We had our fair share of crashes today, but we had luck on our side."
Hammond was near the front getting ready for the bunch sprint when the crash happened, and he found himself with nowhere to go but down.
"I was in good position for the sprint, but a rider was going dangerously fast into the round-about and caused the crash. When everyone is going the same speed through a corner, it takes a real idiot to think you can go 10kph faster," Hammond said. "My leg is hurting pretty bad. I should be OK to keep going, but it hurts now."
Milram was looking to set up Gerald Ciolek for another stage win, but the German was caught up in two crashes in the last 25 km.
"We were hit hard in the finale today," said Milram directeur sportif Ralf Grabsch. "Unfortunately there are days like this in cycling. We had a lot planned for today, the profile was good for Gerald Ciolek."
Team Fuji-Servetto's Robert Kiserlovski may be the third rider to abandon the Vuelta, as he is suspected to have broken his collarbone in the crash. Fuji's Davide Vigano also injured his right elbow.
Silence-Lotto's Charly Wegelius abandoned due to illness on the stage, while Astana announced that Chris Horner would not start the fifth stage due to a fractured wrist sustained in the crash on today's stage four.
Wednesday's unusually early rest day in Tarragona, Spain will allow the wounded extra time to heal before racing resumes on Thursday.
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