MONTECASSINO, Italy — Overall leader Michael Matthews claimed his first individual victory on the sixth stage of the Giro d’Italia on Thursday, but the race was marred by a crash which forced overall contender Joaquim Rodriguez and two Katusha teammates to withdraw.
The incident occurred on the wet road approaching the final climb, and involved several cyclists, but the Katusha riders were the most seriously affected.
Rodriguez made it to the finish 7:43 behind Matthews, and Nairo Quintana fell behind 2:08 overall.
Rodriguez was diagnosed with a broken rib and left thumb, teammate Angel Vicioso had his right femur broken in three places and was being transported to Rome for surgery, and Giampaolo Caruso had large bruises.
“It hurts to leave the Giro, but there is no other option,” said Rodriguez, who already had two broken ribs from the Amstel Gold race. “The road was very slippery and we were going 60 kph (40 mph). Just touching your brakes was enough to crash. … After the crash I got back on my bike immediately, more full of aggression and determination, but after a while I clearly felt what the problem was, as I could not breathe anymore.”
Rigoberto Uran, a Colombian who is third overall, explained that the crash happened right in front of the main pack.
“All of the GC guys went down or were held up except (Cadel) Evans,” Uran said. “Fortunately, I only have a few scratches and a contusion on my left side, the elbow and hip specifically. Fortunately, it is nothing serious.”
Matthews won from a four-man breakaway, coming up the inside of Evans’ wheel to take victory on the Giro’s longest stage, a 257-kilometer (160-mile) route which ended in a climb up to Montecassino.
“I still can’t believe what happened,” Matthews said. “The team put me in a perfect position for the climb. We controlled the break, and then it was up to me to defend the jersey.
“I didn’t think I’d be able to win the stage, too. I’ve got to thank the team, they were incredible. I was lucky to have Luke Durbridge in front of me, he did an awesome job. I wouldn’t be here without him on the climb.”
Tim Wellens was second, and Evans third. Matteo Rabottini was the last of the escapees to cross the line, 49 seconds ahead of a large chasing group.
Matthews will wear the pink jersey for a fifth day, with the Australian cyclist extending his lead to 21 seconds. Evans moved into second, gaining a lot of time on his rivals for the overall prize. Uran was third.
The sixth stage was to be the second longest but had to be extended by 10 kilometers to take a detour around a landslide.
With the route so lengthy, the peloton was content to let a breakaway group of 11 extend its lead to 14 minutes before reeling it in with 12 kilometers remaining, shortly before the crash.
The crash split the peloton. A group of eight riders got away and moved quickly up the start of the 8.5-kilometer climb to the finish.
Daniel Oss, Steve Morabito, Luke Durbridge and Ivan Santaromita were dropped before Evans led the sprint over the final kilometer.
Friday’s seventh stage of 21 is another lengthy leg, with two categorized climbs along the 211-kilometer (131-mile) route from Frosinone to Foligno.