Philippe Gilbert's hopes of debuting his rainbow jersey with victory at the Giro di Lombardia were dented on the way up the Muro di Sormano and definitively ended on the treacherous descent, as the newly-crowned world champion crashed out of the race after he had chased to latch back on to the group of favourites.
A resolute spell of forcing the pace from eventual winner Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) on the 1.9km-long climb saw Gilbert tailed off by 15 seconds, although from his perch aboard RAI's in-race motorbike, Paolo Savoldelli said that the Belgian appeared the freshest of all the contenders at the summit.
Regardless of whether Gilbert was simply bluffing on the much-touted "wall" or if the stardust of the Cauberg had indeed already abandoned him, his challenge was to come to a shuddering halt shortly afterwards. As he hurtled down the Sormano in pursuit of Rodriguez, Alberto Contador et al, Gilbert's wheels slipped from under him and he slid across the road.
By the time the television cameras had caught up with the bloodied Gilbert, he was already sitting glumly in the passenger seat of the BMC team car, alongside manager John Lelangue. Six days after salvaging his season with victory in the world championships at Valkenburg, the curse of the rainbow jersey had reared its head.
"He hasn't broken anything but the damage is still significant. He took blows to his arm, leg, hip and back," a downbeat Lelangue told RAI through the rolled down car window. "There was a lot of blood and he was a bit groggy, but he never lost consciousness."
Gilbert had just caught up to the favourites when he came a cropper on the descent of the Sormano, but in the time it took for him to gingerly get to his feet, the race had simply disappeared up the road.
"With that injury there was no point in continuing and in any case, the gap between the group and was Gilbert too big," said Lelangue, who added that his rider's injuries were unlikely to require a trip to hospital.
Gilbert's BMC teammate Alessandro Ballan was another man to crash on the descent of the Sormano, as he was caught up in a separate incident with Luca Paolini (Katusha). The Italian was taken straight to hospital by directeur sportif Fabio Baldato, although it does not appear that he sustained any serious injuries.
For Gilbert, meanwhile, there was an odd symmetry to his Classics campaign. While struggling for form at Milan-San Remo in March, his hopes were dashed when he crashed while cresting the summit of the Cipressa. Six months on and back on Italian roads, his late-season Indian summer was washed out in the spitting rain on the long drop from the Sormano to shores of Lake Como at Nesso.
Incidentally, as he signed on in Bergamo on Saturday morning, Gilbert had shown considerable prescience of the dangers that lay ahead. "It's going to be interesting with the rain today," he warned. "I think that the race could be won and lost on the descents."
Understandably, Gilbert will hardly appreciate the irony, but no matter. When the wounds heal, the rainbow jersey will still be his.
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