A huge crash at the foot of the Blockhaus has seen Team Sky's aspirations in the Giro d'Italia take a massive battering as both Geraint Thomas and Mikel Landa fell heavily, losing significant amounts of time.
Previously second overall, Thomas lost over five minutes, whilst Landa lost almost 27 minutes, wrecking Sky's chances of battling for the overall with either of their co-leaders.
The crash happened when riders on the left-hand side of the peloton struck a glancing blow against a police motorbike, which was stopped on the side of the road. After one rider fell, the domino effect multiplied across the left-hand side of the bunch. Sky initially estimated that at least four of their riders went down, amongst them Kenny Elissonde, Landa and Thomas. Team Sunweb's Wilco Kelderman abandoned as a result of the crash.
Despite sustaining cuts and grazes and briefly dislocating his shoulder, Thomas remounted and rode on, moving up through the peloton as best he could, first with the support of Diego Rosa (Sky) and then quickly passing Landa, who had remounted faster. Initially he seemed to be closing the gap to the leaders, according to the Italian race TV GPS, but despite his hugely tenacious response to the circumstances, the Welshman's effort faded during the second half of the climb.
The scene at the Sky bus, half a kilometre away from the finish line on Blockhaus, was one of total desolation. Thomas, the first Sky rider to reach the finish, warmed down on the rollers outside the bus, his back to the waiting reporters and talking quietly to team staff. As the remainder of the Sky riders arrived in ones and twos, each made a point of offering the Welshman words of support after the tremendous blow to his Grand Tour hopes. When he turned to speak to the press, although outwardly calm, he recognised his GC aspirations in the Giro d'Italia were essentially over, through no fault of his own.
"Obviously we were racing for the bottom of the climb, filling the whole road, and the next thing I know, just out of nowhere the guys in front of me went down and clipped the motorbike and that was it. I was down on the floor," he said.
"I thought I had done something bad to my shoulder, but the race doctor popped it back in, and it was OK, but obviously I had to get another bike. It was just game over."
Thomas feared that he would have to abandon there and then, but finally, he could continue racing. "I got back on and battled on to the finish, but I knew deep down there's no coming back from that. I was on the floor for quite a while and then waiting to get a bike and everything. It's a shame, because that shouldn't happen."
It would be hard, he said, to think about how he could regain such a big time loss, but some rest at the hotel would at least enable him to begin to plan for what was left of the Giro d'Italia. But it will be an uphill task, and his usual wry humour shone through briefly as he reflected, "I doubt the boys [other GC contenders] will let me regain that time that easily."
He was not at all cross, he said, with Quintana and Movistar for continuing to race, because "it was race on, we were racing anyway, it's just unfortunate. It shouldn't have happened, but that's what happened and I don't blame them, they were already riding a good while before that.
"The motorbike was sticking out on the road, and we use every bit of road. We ride on this bit," he said, pointing his foot at a sliver of tarmac between his bike wheel and the grass verge. "Every centimetre. He was just there, sticking into the road, somebody hit the bike and a load of us came down."
Landa loses 27 minutes
A long wait then ensued for Landa, to the point where it began to be rumoured he had abandoned. In fact, the Spaniard completed the course and rode to the Sky bus, dismounting, limping towards the bus and talking to reporters as he did so. The contrast with the day before, when he had been the one GC contender to go on the attack, could not have been more brutal.
Landa reported that the left-hand side of his body had been badly mauled by the crash and that "I got up quicker than some, but I realised straight away I couldn't actually pedal. I've gone up the climb as best as I could, riding on one leg. I just need to get some rest and see if I can recover for the time trial."
Landa did not blame the motorbike for the incident, saying "we all want to be up there at the front, and there's not enough space." Asked if he was more affected mentally or physically by the crash, he said simply, "it's affected everything," and clambered gingerly onto the bus.
"These things happen in sport sometimes, we have to stay calm and not over-react. It's obviously emotional but my role is to keep the guys calm and assess the situation," added Team Principal Dave Brailsford. "We have to look at how we go on from here.
"Obviously, it would have been nice to see how the guys would have got on, I'm pretty confident about Mikel and G and their condition and how they'll going go, but we'll never know. What we do know is what we do tonight, tomorrow, the next day and for the rest of the race.
"Sometimes the goalposts will move, you know that'll happen and you've got to respond to that. The motorbike shouldn't have been there, frankly, I think we could all see that but I'm sure the guy who was riding the bike realises that too, and I'm sure he won't be feeling too great. We'll leave it at that, but we do have to go back and look at it and ask questions about why it happened. So we fight on. Re-calibrate and move on."
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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