The chances of a Geraint Thomas Giro d'Italia victory went up in smoke on the foothills of Mount Etna.
The Ineos rider crashed in the neutral zone before the start of Stage 3, and the injuries picked up in the incident must have been worse than first feared as the Welshman cracked on the shallow gradients at the base of Mount Etna.
Thomas lost touch with the peloton before the climb truly started, and the majority of his team rode on in the group, a further indication that the 2018 Tour de France winner was in big trouble.
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EF Education First rider Jonathan Caicedo would go on to win the stage, but Thomas’ hopes of adding the Giro to his palmarès are over after he came in 12 minutes down.
Videos show crash which ended Geraint Thomas's Giro dream
Elsewhere, Simon Yates, dropped on the final ascent of Etna, shipped time to his fellow GC contenders, finishing four minutes and 23 seconds in arrears of Caicedo - not enough to end his challenge but leaving him with a lot of work to do over the next three weeks.
A disastrous day for British racing left Thomas 11 minutes and 17 seconds in arrears of new race leader João Almeida (Deceuninck), with Yates three minutes and 46 seconds down.
WATCH: Disaster for Thomas as his Giro goes up in smoke at base of Mount Etna
Thomas went into Stage 3 as arguably the leading general classification contender, third in the standings behind only Filippo Ganna and Joao Almeida.
"Geraint Thomas was going so well at the start, he was looking in wonderful form, and before we've even start on Mount Etna his Giro d'Italia challenge may well be being left on the roads," exclaimed Rob Hatch on commentary.
"A crash in the neutral zone today... we were told all was okay; that's certainly not the case. I'm afraid Geraint Thomas could be out of the reckoning for the Giro d'Italia."
Struggling Thomas drops back to team car
And Brian Smith believes that Thomas's struggles must be a result of injuries he picked up in that earlier crash:
"I don't think you recover from this. You don't get dropped before we even hit the main climb. Something is terribly wrong, he's out the saddle, he just doesn't like right at all. Unfortunately, that's his Giro going up in smoke here."
WIGGINS ANALYSIS: THE IS THE END OF HIS GIRO, IT'S HARD TO WATCH
Thomas's struggle during Stage 3 of the Giro d'Italia was as sudden as it was unexpected. But Bradley Wiggins says that the footage suggests 'G' may have picked up quite significant injuries in a crash that occurred in the neutral zone before the start of the stage.
“We spoke about how much of a favourite his for this race,” Wiggins said. “It just shows you how fragile the Giro d’Italia can be – it’s day three and he’s struggling quite a bit. He’s got Filippo Ganna with him, he’s got Ben Swift, but the effort those guys are making is disproportionate to the effort G is making.
You see the way his jersey is ripped, this is more than just (usual) physical problems, he’s got something. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s broken a rib or something.
“Knowing Geraint, he’s very hard, he’ll ride through anything, he’ll ride through pain. Clearly this is the end of his Giro, because this is very abnormal and not right for G. It’s quite hard to watch, we were expecting a lot of him in this race, but it just shows you how delicate this race is, it’s never a done deal."
WHO IS TOP OF THE GC STANDINGS (PINK JERSEY/MAGLIA ROSA)?
After Stage 3
- 1. João Almeida (Por) Deceuninck – Quick-Step, 07:44:25
- 2. Jonathan Caicedo (Ecu) EF Pro Cycling, 00:00:00 (Same Time)
- 3. Pello Bilbao (Spa) Bahrain-McLaren, 00:00:37
- 4. Wilko Kelderman (Ned) Sunweb, 00:00:42
- 5. Harm Vanhoucke (Bel) Lotto Soudal, 00:00:53
- 6. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Trek Segafredo, 00:00:55
- 7. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) NTT, 00:00:59
- 8. Brandon McNulty (Usa) UAE Team Emirates, 00:01:11
- 9. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana, 00:01:13
- 10. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Jumbo-Visma, 00:01:15
- Simon Yates (Gbr) Mitchelton-Scott, 00:03:46
- Geraint Thomas (Gbr) Ineos Grenadiers, 00:11:17
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