After the bedraggled Garmin-Sharp team rolled to a halt at the end of the opening stage of the Giro d'Italia, many of the fans on the roadside were oblivious to the fact that Dan Martin's race was already over.
"Well done, Dan," one local shouted in the direction of Fabian Wegmann as he took off his helmet, mistaking the German's shock of blonde hair for Martin's. By that point, however, Martin was already on his way to hospital, having sustained a suspected broken collarbone after crashing just over quarter of an hour into his Giro.
Martin's wheels appeared to slide from under him when he rode over a drain cover made greasy by the smattering of drizzle that had bathed the course earlier in the evening. His fall brought three other Garmin-Sharp riders down with him – Andre Cardoso, Nathan Haas and Koldo Fernandez – while the rest of the team sat up and waited to see if the Irishman would be able to remount.
It quickly became apparent that Martin's Giro had come to a premature end as he sat motionless on the roadside, staring forlornly ahead as directeur sportif Charly Wegelius emerged from the car to assist him. However, Garmin were down to just eight riders at the time of the crash, and now had just four riders in formation rather than the required minimum of five.
With Haas, Cardoso and Fernandez gingerly picking themselves off the tarmac and assessing their injuries – on crossing the line, Cardoso told reporters that he also appears to have suffered a broken collarbone – it was left to the dropped Fabian Wegmann to make up the ground and put his shoulder to the wheel on behalf of the team.
"I was dropped already because I had a bad stomach, so I didn't see it. I don't actually know exactly what happened but four guys went down," Wegmann said afterwards. "There were only four guys in front so I had to catch them. I don't actually know what happened with Dan but he didn't look too good."
With Wegmann suffering but safely on board, Garmin's quintet made it to the finish together, albeit in last place, all of 3:26 down on winners Orica-GreenEdge and 1:38 down on the closest team, Europcar. Remarkably.
"They waited and then they saw that they had five guys again and we went again. But I was done and it was so hard for me in the last kilometres," Wegmann said. "We knew we had to bring five guys to the finish. I was the weakest guy and it's bad when you're the weakest guy. You have to suffer so much but I gave all I could. It was a sad day."
As they soft-pedalled towards anti-doping control after the finish, Wegmann's teammate Ryder Hesjedal could scarcely hide his frustration on how the evening had panned out. They had already dealt with a series of wet drain covers, and he was at a loss to understand how one had proven to be more treacherous than the rest. "We rode through those things every time," he said, shaking his head.
"We said beforehand that we would only wait for Ryder or Dan. When we saw Dan wasn't coming back, we tried to go the finish with five guys for Ryder," Wegmann explained.
With Martin now out of the running, Hesjedal, becomes Garmin's de facto team leader, but lying in 165th place overall and with 3:26 to make up, the 2012 Giro winner has a mountain to climb.
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