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Australian Kaden Groves won a ferocious sprint at the end of a rain-soaked and crash-filled fifth stage of the Giro d’Italia on Wednesday as Andreas Leknessund retained the overall lead and favourite Remco Evenepoel fell twice.
World champion and Vuelta a Espana winner Evenepoel now faces a nervy wait to discover the seriousness of his injuries.
“After the second fall, he felt a lot of pain on his right side. He has a muscle hematoma and was hurt in his sacrum (at the base of the spine),” said Toon Cruyt, the doctor for the Soudal Quick-Step team.
“We hope that after a good massage and a good night’s sleep he will be better. We will know more Thursday but what is certain is that the sixth stage will be difficult for him.”
Leknessund, who also had a scare, remained 28 seconds ahead of 23-year-old Evenepoel after a largely flat 171km run from Atripalda to Salerno on the coast.
The Norwegian said he is enjoying leading a major tour.
“Rainy and cold but still a nice day,” he said, adding that he was happy the team had prepared rain jackets in the pink of the Giro leader’s jersey.
Groves, Leknessund and another favourite, Primoz Roglic, were the beneficiaries of the decision of rival teams not to take advantage of a late crash.
Groves and Roglic fell with 6km to go which split the peloton.
Leknessund was caught in the second group but Evenepoel’s Soudal Quick-Step team and Ineos, which has former major Tour winners Tao Geoghegan Hart and Geraint Thomas in the top ten, eased up allowing the chasers to catch up.
“It was a hectic final,” said Leknessund. “I was behind this crash. We went all in too close with a few other teams. I could see it would come back and tried to stay calm.”
– ‘A big mess’ –
That set up a frantic finish in which Evenepoel, cruising along in the peloton, fell for the second time in the day.
Groves made the most of his reprieve by edging Jonathan Milan and Mads Pedersen.
“Surprised myself today,” said the Australian. “Everything was going well but I crashed at the roundabout. I bounced back up and put the chain on again and caught up.”
Mark Cavendish was fifth even though he had lost control 50m from the finish. He managed to avoid falling off until he had crossed the line.
Evenepoel had hit the deck for the first time with 150km to go after a small dog ran out toward the peloton.
As the dog approached, Davide Ballerini, the Italian wobbled and then fell. His bike slid across the wet surface and took out Evenepoel, his Soudal Quick-Step teammate.
Major tours have tangled with animals before. On the 1997 Giro, Marco Pantani had to abandon after a crash caused by a black cat. In 2015, cows wandered onto the road causing chaos in the Tour de France.
The second crash on Wednesday occurred with under 3km to go so Evenepoel, guaranteed the same time as the winner, was able to roll slowly to the line gesticulating angrily at the team car, other riders and the cameras.
“A lot of stuff happening,” Max Sciandri, the head of the Movistar team, told Eurosport.
“A big mess. Mess everywhere. That happens on a day like this when the roads are slippery and everyone wants to go for the sprint.”