In the most unlikely of circumstances, a moment's inattention between two riders early on in the women's World Championships road-race yesterday provoked a massive crash that caused two thirds of the 120-strong field either to be blocked in or to hit the ground.
Two riders, reportedly from the Czech and French teams, touched wheels as the peloton slowed on a slight rise and as they fell, the domino effect rippled through the pack, producing a mass of tangled bodies and bikes.
Although spectacular, according to official race sources the riders involved suffered only minor injuries. Among those who came off worse were Briton Katie Colclough and an Austrian, both with facial injuries, while three riders, a New Zealander and a Lithuanian were sent to hospital for further checkups on bruised arms and wrists.
"It caught me out badly," Spanish rider Ane Santesteban said. "I didn't fall, but there was nowhere to go, you just couldn't help riding into it." Italy's Elisa Longo, later a bronze medallist, said: "We were told that several of our riders were down and we knew it was big."
With so many riders on the floor, the crash took nearly 10 minutes to be resolved as some received medical assistance and mechanics attended to damaged bikes. Coming so early in the 128.8km race, however, it had little real long-term effect.
Victory finally went to Marianne Vos, the Olympic gold medallist in London and the winner of the world road-race 2006. Five consecutive silver medals for the Dutchwoman separated that triumph and yesterday's gold. Under immense pressure given she was racing on home soil, Vos and her team rode a tactically faultless race, placing Anna Van Der Breggen in a seven-rider break that went clear midway through. Vos then blazed across to the front group and after whittling it down to five with one attack on the Cauberg climb close to the finish, then broke away alone with 2km to go.
Vos' triumph concludes a year in which she has also taken gold at the London Olympics, the cyclo-cross world title, the women's Giro d'Italia and the women's World Cup.
Emma Pooley was Britain's best finisher in 15th, but was disappointed at not having made it into Vos' move. "When Vos jumped across, I was a bit boxed in and couldn't follow, I just didn't have the legs," Pooley said. "I messed up there."
Today, Britain's senior men try to defend Mark Cavendish's rainbow jersey, although on such a hilly course Cavendish has predicted "a group at the finish but it's not going to be a bunch with me in it, that's for sure".
According to Bradley Wiggins, specialist climber Jonathan Tiernan-Locke will be team leader, with Wiggins, Cavendish and Tour runner-up Chris Froome all working for the Devonian. Part of the small-scale Endura team, Tiernan Locke has never raced at this level before but his spectacular run of victories this season, including the Tour of Britain, has propelled him to the top of the GB hierachy.