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The race seemed destined for a massive sprint but with just under one kilometre to go, a clash of riders began a chain reaction which decimated the field at Scheldeprijs and saw just a handful dispute the win.
Replays showed that a rider from the Astana and LottoNL-Jumbo team came together, with the nudge shunting the Astana rider to the left and into a Bora-Argon18 competitor. All three clattered to the ground, with this then sparking off a chain reaction which brought down a slew of others.
The identities of the three initial fallers was not immediately apparent, but Andrea Guardini (Astana) plus the Bora-Argon 18 duo of Sam Bennett and Shane Archbold were amongst those who hit the deck. Also down were Sky’s leader for the day, Elia Viviani, plus Tinkoff-Saxo duo Michael Morkov and Nikolay Trusov.
Archbold (pictured above) rolled across the finish line covered in dust from the road and holding his chest. He appeared shaken by the fall.
“I am not very good,” said the Kiwi. “Sam is still on the ground. It wasn’t a very good day for the team. I crashed twice, once after 20 kilometres and once in the finish.”
Asked how it happened, he said he was vague on details. “I don’t know. I didn’t see it, I just rode straight through it,” he said. “I don’t know.”
There was a period of silence about how Bennett was, but the team then issued a release stating that both he and Archbold had been taken to hospital for checks.
Subsequent to that directeur sportif Enrico Poitschke explained the situation. “We just got out of the hospital. Both guys haven’t broken anything, which is good news after that hard crash,” he said.
“Shane is with the team now and he is okay so far. As it looks right now he’ll be able to line-up in Paris-Roubaix on Sunday.”
Things were a little more complicated for Bennett. “Sam will stay a night in the hospital for further observation. He is okay, but in pain,” he said.
“He fell on his head and he has a whiplash. Even though we are confident that he’ll be released shortly, we didn’t want to risk anything. That’s why we decided that Sam spends the night in the hospital.”
Astana gave a small detail about Guardini, saying that he “did not suffer any physical damage in the crash, and will recover at home in Italy before his next race at the Tour of Turkey.”
Team Sky’s said that Elia Viviani was taken to hospital, but noted that doctor Richard Freeman said that he had not suffered serious injury.
“Elia was caught up in a really violent crash at the end of the race and was transported to hospital for precautionary X-Rays and checks. Those have revealed soft tissue injuries but no fractures.
“After treatment the team’s medical staff will continue to monitor Elia in the coming days.”
As for Morkov and Trusov, Tinkoff-Saxo’s two leaders for the race also came down.
“It’s a huge disappointment to race well for 200km and then be stopped by a crash 300 meters before the finish,” said Morkov, who underestimated the distance to the finish in relation to the location of the accident.
“The race went very well, it was an easy one with nice weather and we could take it a bit more relaxed than the past races. Both Nikolay and I tried to go for the sprint and we were in a very good position, thanks to the hard work by all our teammates who helped us in the last kilometres.
“Unfortunately, we were both involved in the crash but on the positive side, I didn’t suffer any injuries. I felt really well today. I had a sensation that I hadn’t felt in quite some time now and that added even further to my disappointment. I had very good legs, I was ready to go for the sprint but the pile-up put an abrupt end to that.”
Others also have the same complaint, but fortunately the chaos doesn’t seem to have been as serious as was first feared.