Two years ago, in his first grand tour as a leader, Thomas was brought down in a bizarre crash involving a police motorbike on stage nine to Blockhaus. This time it was a stray Bahrain-McLaren bidon skidding along the road in the neutralised zone that did for him.
There were a few bottles skidding around – road surfaces in southern Italy are notoriously bumpy and although the neutralised zone is meant to be taken slowly, the peloton was going at a fair clip through Enna, with a few bidons bouncing out of their cages – and Thomas was unable to avoid this one.
The 34-year-old skidded, flipped and landed heavily on his hip, sliding 10 metres or so along the ground before grinding to a halt.
Although he was quickly back on his bike and back in the bunch, and although the initial feedback was positive, the 2018 Tour de France champion was in immediate trouble when the pace quickened in the last 20 kilometres. He eventually lost over nine minutes on the ascent of Etna and was clearly in discomfort, his skinsuit shredded down the left-hand side. It was cruel luck.
Thomas had arrived at this Giro in good form, finishing second to Yates at last month’s Tirreno-Adriatico and fourth at the recent world time trial championships. Only on Friday he had been happy to assume the status of race favourite, admitting he was confident he would be “there or thereabouts” come the finish.
Thomas has certainly had more than his share of crashes in his career. His former manager at the GB academy, John Herety, used to tell him to “put the Superman cape away”. But he has battled to rid himself of that stigma and was very unlucky here.
Where one door closes, another opens. Tao Geoghegan Hart, Thomas’ Ineos Grenadiers teammate, is now likely to assume team leadership. The young Briton sits 24th overall, 3:12 back on the new race leader Joao Almeida (Deceuninck-QuickStep). Yates is one place and 34 seconds behind Geoghegan Hart after coming home four minutes 22 seconds down on Monday’s stage winner Jonathan Caceido of EF Pro Cycling.
Yates, who was flying at Tirreno-Adriatico and was one of the favourites for the stage having taken pink the last time the Giro raced up Etna, was distanced with 10 kilometres of the climb to go. He arrived at the summit with his shirt completely unzipped, despite the lousy weather, suggesting he may have been overheating. “It’s a long race,” was all his sports director Matt White would say. “Everyone has a bad day. Unfortunately for us it’s early in the race. We’ll just be coming at it from a different angle now. We were looking at coming at it from the front with a couple of early mountain stages and a time trial. Now we’re coming from behind.”
Yates, who led the Giro for 13 days in 2018, certainly still has a chance.
There are some massive mountains to come in week three where anybody having a jour sans like he did on Monday could ship serious time.
There are also two time trials still to come, with Yates showing on stage one he has the edge over many of the other GC contenders in the race against the clock. But this was a disastrous day for Britain’s two hopefuls – and for the Giro in general.
The Telegraph, London