Race leader Michael Matthews of Orica-GreenEdge and fellow Australian Cadel Evans were the big winners following today's Stage 6 of the Giro d'Italia after a big crash ahead of the final climb to Montecassino saw a small group get away. Matthews took the stage win he had targeted, while Evans, third behind Lotto-Belisol's Tim Wellens, takes at least three quarters of a minute on his rivals for the overall.
One of the former world champion and Tour de France winner Evans' biggest challengers is out of the race this evening, with Katusha's Joaquim Rodriguez abandoning this evening after breaking two ribs and fracturing his thumb.
The main group crossed the finish line 48 seconds down on Matthews, but for many riders the damage was as much physical as it was psychological, several with jerseys shredded, showing painful looking road rash.
Among those to lose a lot of time today were 2011 Giro champion Michele Scarponi of Astana who lost almost 2 minutes, and 2012 runner-up, Rodriguez, who came home almost 8 minutes down and will now take no further part in the race.
Already scheduled to be the longest stage of the 2014 Giro at 247km, a further 10km was added to the route prior to the start this morning in Sassano due to a landslide that caused a road closure at an early point on the planned course.
The route took the race north west, briefly hitting the coast at Salerno then heading past Mount Vesuvius and the city Naples to the hilltop monastery of Montecassino, chosen as the finish location today to mark the 70th anniversary of the World War II battle that saw the Allies breaking the German lines to advance on Rome.
Four riders got away early on in the stage, and were reeled in after more than 200km out front on their own with just 12km remaining, the quartet comprising Andrea Fedi of Neri Sottoli-Yellow Fluo, Androni Giocattoli’s Marco Bandiera, Bardiani’s Edoardo Zardini and Rodolfo Torres of Colombia.
With rain once again causing slippery roads, immediately the junction was made there was a series of crashes ahead of a roundabout, a number of riders coming down, some of them heavily with Katusha’s Giampaolo Caruso looking the worst hurt. The Italian seemed conscious, but there was a long wait for medical assistance to arrive.e
Besides the news on Rodriguez this evening, Katusha tweeted thar Caruso is out of the race with big contusions to his hip and leg, and Angel Vicioso also abandons due to a complex fracture of the femur.
Stage winner, and still race leader, Matthews, who also leads the best young rider's classification, said afterwards: “It was all for the win today. Fair play. It was me against him [Evans] for the jersey and the stage, and I was lucky enough to have really good legs in the final after my team put me in the perfect condition at the bottom of the climb.
"On this sort of terrain, it’s definitely my best win, and totally a dream come true. Winning a hilltop finish over Cadel Evans while wearing the Maglia Rosa in the Giro d’Italia: it doesn’t get much better than that.”
Speaking about the big crash before the final climb, he went on: “Everyone wanted to be in the front because of the wet conditions. The road narrowed before the roundabout, we were riding at 60 kph, and everyone wanted to be in the front. If you’re lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, you’re OK. That’s racing these days. It’s all about positioning.”
Matthews forged his reputation as a strong sprinter particularly on tough finishes, but says today's win proves he is more versatile than that: “I was always a good climber, but I didn’t have the confidence that I needed to go into these climbing stages and be good.
"These last two stages I”ve proved to myself that I can do it, and from now on I’ll be aiming, not for the high mountain stages, but for the stages that finish with a short climb. I now know I can win on that terrain and in the flat sprints too.”
He added: “We’ll try again for the win tomorrow. We have a really strong team for the lead-outs, as we showed in the opening team time trial. We’re not going to back down now: we have 2 stage wins now. We’ll push all the way and see how far we can get.”
Evans. second overall, said: "It was only when I saw our group was so small and the types of riders that were there that, that it wasn't because of the normal racing conditions that we had a selection like that unfortunately.
"The communication in the final isn't clear and to make rational decisions for such an unexpected situation isn't easy.
"Our job is to race and to race to the finish. That's the first thing on our mind. What happened behind, I really have no idea. I haven't seen it. Unfortunately, it has been a very bad day for some of the riders," he added.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.