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Team Sky’s hopes for a high general classification placing at this year’s Giro d’Italia came crashing down on Stage 9 Sunday, quite literally, midway up the slopes of the Blockhaus climb.
After a police moto pulled over on the left side of the road with 15km remaining, Sunweb rider Wilco Kelderman, who was at the left edge of the peloton, could not avoid clipping the motorbike. His crash caused a ripple effect across the bunch, taking down several riders, including Sky’s GC riders Geraint Thomas and Mikel Landa, as well as Orica-Scott’s Adam Yates.
On Twitter, Sunweb rider Chad Haga explained that the moto was stopped just after a right-hand bend, writing, “we couldn’t see it till the last moment and could only shout.”
In all, six Sky riders went down — Thomas, Landa, Diego Rosa, Sebastian Henao, Vasil Kiryienka and Kenny Elissonde.
— Eurosport Benelux (@EurosportNLBE) May 14, 2017
With race favorites like Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) at the head of the peloton and the pace high, the Sky riders could only watch their race slip away as they assessed their wounds and collected their bikes. There was no reaction from the GC contenders — no attacks, but no calls to slow the pace, either.
Quintana attacked at 6.7km to go, and went on to win the stage, 24 seconds ahead of Thibault Pinot (FDJ) and Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), taking the maglia rosa.
Behind, three riders who had come to the Giro hoping to stand on the final podium in Milan instead tried to limit their losses. In the end, Yates lost 4:37. Thomas, who looked to be injured and took over two minutes to get back on his bike, mounted a furious chase but paid for the effort, finishing 5:06 back.
Landa, who finished third overall in 2015, lost almost 27 minutes.
“My shoulder popped out [in the crash],” Thomas said after he crossed the finish line. “I felt good on the climb, but then crashed, race over. The moto was just stopped on the side of the road. We were all racing for position, so we fill the road. Someone crashed in front of me, and I just went straight down.”
Asked what he might make of the remaining stages in the race, Thomas said he hadn’t thought that far ahead. “It’s too early to think about a new goal, I’m a bit angry, we’ll have to sit down and work out what we’re going to do tomorrow.”
Kelderman, the first rider to go down, was forced to abandon due to a broken finger.
“It is really frustrating to crash out like this,” he said. “We were taking our position in front-left side and we needed to avoid the motor that was on the road. Tom just managed to go around the moto bike but I clipped it with my handlebar. This is a big disappointment for me, I felt really strong and it’s devastating to not have been able to help Tom some more with his great result today. I’ve worked really hard over the past few months to raise my level and it’s really sad that I cannot continue to show this.”
Given the countless incidents involving race motos impacting riders over the past few years, the reaction from the peloton and media was, predictably, one of frustration.
“I don’t know what this stupid moto was doing there,” said Dumoulin, who lost Kelderman, a key supporter, for the rest of the race. “I’m so disappointed. I barely avoided it. I was lucky. I was maybe two centimeters further to the right than Wilco. They say, ‘it happens,’ but it shouldn’t happen. It’s stupid.”
In a Team Sky release, Thomas promised to “keep fighting.”
“We kept fighting today and never gave up,” he said. “It could have been a lot worse. We lost five minutes but I felt like I lost three or four of those on the side of the road. So the legs are obviously decent.
“I’ll aim to have a good rest day tomorrow, give the TT a good bash and then see where we stand. It’s obviously going to be super hard to win the overall now, but there are still stages to go for and we might still be able to move up into the top 10 or better. At the moment I just want to use the aggression, race hard and see what I can get out of it.”