Geraint Thomas and Simon Yates were the big losers and Sicilian rider Vincenzo Nibali was among those who gained precious time on his home roads in the wild, rainy and windy third stage of the Giro d’Italia on Monday.
Ecuador champion Jonathan Caicedo won the stage which finished up Mount Etna, after taking part in an early breakaway, and Portuguese rider Joo Almeida grabbed the pink jersey.
Thomas, the 2018 Tour de France champion who was a big pre-race favourite, crashed before the stage began and then dropped behind before the climb and was left out of contention.
With rain coming harder and harder as the riders climbed the barren, black lava-laced slopes of Etna, Yates — another pre-race favourite — was also dropped.
Ineos sports director Matteo Tosatto said Thomas went down after getting a water bottle caught in his front wheel.
“Initially, he had some pain but as the stage continued he felt better,” Tosatto said. “However, towards the end in the final 45 kilometres the pace increased and the climbs got steeper, he had some pain, and had to finish the stage at his own pace. Now we’ll check him over and get a verdict from our medical staff.”
Caicedo, who rides for the EF team, required more than four hours to complete the 150-kilometre (93-mile) route from Enna.
Giovanni Visconti crossed second, 21 seconds behind, and Harm Vanhoucke was third, 30 seconds behind.
“From this morning we had decided that I would try to attack and go in the breakaway,” Caicedo said. "We did it, we took a good lead on the peloton and then on the Etna climb I managed to drop Visconti.
Almeida and Caicedo have the same exact overall time, with Spanish rider Pello Bilbao moving up to third overall, 37 seconds behind.
Almeida, who rides for the Deceuninck-Quick-Step team, finished second in the opening stage time trial.
“Cannot describe this feeling,” said Almeida, who finished 11th in the stage, 1:03 behind Caicedo. “I tried to do my best on the climb and stay with the main favourites for the GC.”
Nibali, who crossed seventh in a small group of overall favourites, moved up to sixth, 55 seconds behind. The Sicilian is one of only seven riders to have won all three of cycling’s Grand Tours — the Giro (twice), the Tour and the Spanish Vuelta.
Thomas crashed in the neutral zone before the official start. His elbow was bloodied and his shirt torn on the back and left side. He dropped behind the main pack shortly before the climb as Nibali’s Trek team set a blistering pace.
Ineos Grenadiers teammate Filippo Ganna — the recently crowned time trial world champion and winner of the time trial in Stage 1 — paced Thomas back to the main pack while wearing the pink jersey but Thomas again couldn’t keep up.
Thomas, who lost more than 12 minutes, was also unfortunate in his previous Giro appearance three years ago, withdrawing after getting injured in a crash involving a police motorbike.
Entering Monday’s stage, Thomas was in third place — the best placed of the overall favourites.
Yates, who won the Tirreno-Adriatico warmup race, was dropped with about 10 kilometres to go and finished more than four minutes behind.
The climb on Etna lasted 18.8 kilometres at an average gradient of 6.6% but the the final 3 kilometres were at about 9%, with one section at 13%.
There’s one more stage in Sicily on Tuesday, a 140-kilometre leg from Catania to Villafranca Tirrena featuring one third-category climb midway before a flat finish.
The race then heads over to the mainland and moves north toward the traditional climbs for the punishing last week.
The Giro was originally scheduled to start with three stages in Hungary and run from May 9-31, but it was postponed and revised because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The race ends on Oct. 25 with an individual time trial in Milan.