Simon Yates suffered more Giro d’Italia disappointment as his hopes of pink were extinguished on the climb of the mighty Blockhaus.
Jai Hindley took the stage nine win in a virtual photo finish with Romain Bardet and Richard Carapaz as Juan Pedro Lopez just barely hung on to the pink jersey despite almost crashing on the final climb.
That all happened some 11 minutes before Yates – nursing a knee injury suffered on stage four – crossed the line, having been dropped with 11km of his punishing 191km stage from Isernia still to go.
Yates hinted he could now pull out, saying: “I was hopeful of still being able to try and do something, but I’ve been in a lot of pain since Etna. I’ve been trying to manage it as best as possible. It wasn’t my only problem today, I suffered also with the heat.
“I’ll see what happens now. We’ve got the rest day, I’ll see how I pull up from the stage today.”
It means the BikeExchange-Jayco rider has once again come into the Giro in flying form and as one of the favourites, only for it to unravel early on the roads of Italy.
The 29-year-old, who enjoyed two weeks in the pink jersey in the 2018 race only to lose it in the third week as Chris Froome broke clear to take his memorable win, has seen his hopes of anything like a repeat disappear in each of the last three years.
In 2019, a strong start was followed by a horrible stage nine time trial when he conceded three minutes; in 2020 strong form went to waste as a positive Covid-19 test forced his abandonment; last year he rode to third overall after a stage 19 win, but was left to wonder what might have been but for a slow start.
Yates, who underlined his credentials here with victory in the stage two time trial, had been trying to play down the impact of the knock suffered in a tumble in Sicily on Tuesday.
As he went backwards, Carapaz’s Ineos Grenadiers set a relentless pace at the front of the group of favourites, dropping Lopez, who had been forced to unclip after a touch of wheels.
Bardet, Carapaz and Mikel Landa twice broke clear but twice allowed Domenico Pozzovivo, Joao Almeida and Hindley to come back at them in the final kilometres, and it became a six-way uphill sprint to the line.
“I was just trying to survive as best I can,” Hindley said. “I knew there was right-hander before the finish at about 200 metres to go and I just wanted to hit the corner first, I gave everything and here we are. It’s pretty incredible.”
Lopez, enjoying his fifth day in pink, kept fighting after his incident 8km from the summit, and by rolling in one minute 46 seconds after Hindley hung on to pink by 12 seconds from Almeida going into Monday’s rest day.
Yates’ fellow Lancastrian Hugh Carthy also struggled on the climb as he lost three minutes 48 seconds to the leaders.