Bradley Wiggins' hopes of maintaining his lead in the Tour of Italy yesterday were shattered by a major crash close to the stage finish that left the Briton stranded behind the leading pack.
The Sky rider's race could not have got off to a better start on Saturday when he took maximum risks over the short and challenging time-trial course in Amsterdam to claim a double personal triumph – his first ever stage win and taking the lead in one of cycling's three Grand Tours.
However, the Londoner's first spell in the pink maglia rosa leader's jersey ended yesterday as the bunch hit maximum speed en route to the stage finish in Utrecht and jostled together on painfully narrow, exposed roads. Crashes were waiting to happen, and the triple Olympic champion was twice caught up.
In the first, he span to the ground with three other riders but was quickly back on his feet and racing again. However, the second pile-up was far bigger and occurred in the middle of the pack just seven kilometres from the finish, and he was less lucky.
Blocked behind a mass of other fallers, Wiggins had to wait while those ahead disentangled themselves from their bikes and each other. That wait cost him the lead.
Despite his pink-clad figure then leading a desperate chase of a 60-strong group in person, Wiggins crossed the line in 79th place, 37sec behind the American stage winner Tyler Farrar. It meant the lead passed to the Australian Cadel Evans, who is a second ahead of Farrar.
Team Sky's sports director Sean Yates was fiercely critical of the twisting, narrow course of the race finale. "It's not right to use roads like that," he said. "I lost count of how many big crashes I saw. Some sections were so narrow you could barely get the [team] car through, and that made it difficult to reach any of our riders who had gone down."
A more philosophical Wiggins said: "It's disappointing, but that's the way it is in major tours. You have a massive high one day and you're at the bottom of the pack the next."
Now 32sec back in 37th place overall, Wiggins faces a difficult 209km stage over exposed coastal roads in western Holland today. But on Wednesday, when the race returns to more familiar terrain in Italy, Wiggins and Sky could wrest back the lead in the stage's team time-trial.