Geraint Thomas saw his Giro d’Italia hopes go up in smoke on Mount Etna and Simon Yates faltered badly as Jonathan Caicedo won stage three and Joao Almeida moved into the leader’s pink jersey.
Thomas and Yates had been at the top of the list of overall contenders when the race began on Saturday morning, but the odds were being rapidly recalculated by the time they reached the top of Sicily’s volcano on what appeared a fatal day for British hopes.
Thomas shipped more than 12 minutes after what appeared to be a minor crash in the neutralised zone early in the day proved to be a race-defining moment for the Welshman.
On the approach to the final climb @GeraintThomas86 has become distanced from the peloton. The Welshman crashed at the start of the stage today and has slipped back as the pace went up #Giropic.twitter.com/059FdtJF6p
— INEOS Grenadiers (@INEOSGrenadiers) October 5, 2020
As the gap to the Ineos Grenadiers rider began to yawn on the 19km climb to the finish, Yates dropped off the back of the peloton as attacks were going off the front, and the Mitchelton-Scott man eventually crossed the line four minutes and 22 seconds after EF Education First’s Caicedo.
The Ecuadorian had been part of an eight-man group, also including Britain’s Matthew Holmes, that had gone up the road early on, and he was able to race away from Italian Giovanni Visconti at the summit.
Caicedo’s victory was tantalisingly close to bringing him pink, and he now sits on the same time as Deceuninck-QuickStep’s Almeida.
Jakob Fuglsang led the main contenders in a little under a minute down, just ahead of Rafal Majka and Vincenzo Nibali.
— Mitchelton-SCOTT (@MitcheltonSCOTT) October 5, 2020
Thomas, who had underlined his status as the overall favourite in the race by taking time on his main rivals in Saturday’s opening time trial, took a tumble before the 150km stage from Enna had even properly started.
Aside from some scuffing to his jersey Thomas look unaffected as he rode in the peloton, but as the pace picked up on the approach to the final climb, the Ineos Grenadiers rider was soon dropped.
Filippo Ganna, still in the pink jersey after his stage win on Saturday, did his best to pace Thomas back along with Rohan Dennis but they began the ascent of Etna already one minute down and the gap only grew rapidly from there.
It was a cruel end to Thomas’ hopes, three years after his last tilt at the Giro was effectively ended by a crash with a police motorbike on stage nine.
Yates took pink on Etna in 2018, the first of his 13 days in the lead that year, but it was an unhappy return this time around as he too suffered significant time losses from which it will be extremely difficult to recover.