Kaden Groves won a damp, chaotic stage five of the Giro d’Italia on a crash-strewn day during which overall favourite Remco Evenepoel was almost taken out of the race by a stray dog and Mark Cavendish slid across the finish line on his backside to take fourth place.
Evenepoel, who relinquished the leader’s pink jersey on Tuesday, hit the deck twice on a bruising day for the world champion; once when a stray dog almost ran into the peloton early in the day, then again inside the final three kilometres in what proved to be a dangerous finish.
That second fall for the Belgian came in one of three crashes to hit the peloton in the final seven kilometres of the stage from Atripalda to Salerno.
Evenepoel’s main rival, Primoz Roglic, and race leader, Andreas Leknessund, were among those held up when several riders fell as they turned on to the seafront seven kilometres from the finish.
Evenepoel’s Soudal-QuickStep squad and the Ineos Grenadiers avoided the trouble but did not seem keen to take advantage, slowing the pace in the front group as others got back on but more trouble followed, with Evenepoel taken out when several riders went down again with a little over 1500 metres remaining.
That left a reduced sprint up front but there was still more drama to come.
Cavendish came off the power after his wheel slipped when he launched his move, but as he struggled to stay upright Alberto Dainese cut across him, and he then struck Filippo Fiorelli against the barriers, before going down sliding across the line for one of the stranger top-fives of his career.
As Cavendish went careering across the road, he then hit Andrea Vendrame after the line. The Manxman slid across the line in fifth, but was later upgraded as Dainese was relegated by the race jury for his role in the incident.
“My knee is a little sore but don’t think anything is broken. I don’t have the pain of anything broken,” Cavendish reflected back at his hotel.
“In a perfect position, kick for the sprint, back wheel on the white line and when I kick it slides the wheel and circumstances after that. It is sprinting.
“Alberto has caught me and that is part of sprinting. I just hope everybody else who crashed is okay too. I saw some stretchers but we try again and congratulations to Kaden.”
Soudal Quick-Step doctor Toon Cruyt later confirmed Evenepoel is set to be fine for stage six.
“After the first crash, things looked to be good for Remco, which at that moment was a big relief,” Cruyt said.
“The problem is that following his second crash he has a lot of pain on his right side and a hematoma with contraction of his muscles and some problems with his sacrum bone.
“Hopefully, with some good massage and osteopathic treatment followed by a good night’s rest, things will go better. We will know more Thursday morning, but what’s sure is that stage six will be a difficult one for him.”
Groves, who had been held up by the crash seven kilometres out, had the power to hold off Jonathan Milan for his first Giro victory.
“Everything was going well until I crashed at the roundabout seven kilometres to go,” the Australian said. “I put my chain back on fast enough and the groups came back together. It wasn’t very clean, we lost each other but luckily enough I was in position behind DSM and I had the legs to win.”
The stage began in horrible conditions in southern Italy. And if there were metaphorical cats and dogs falling from the sky, the first big issue for Evenepoel and his team-mates was a very real canine that ran into the road a little over 20km into the stage.
Davide Ballerini tried to take evasive action but fell in slippery conditions, with Evenepoel going down behind him. The 22-year-old was slow to get up but eventually offered a thumbs up to a camera bike. That good mood had evaporated by the finish as he looked frustrated rolling over the line.
Evenepoel remains in second place overall, 28 seconds down on Leknessund.
Joao Almeida, fourth overall, summed up the mood in the peloton after a stressful day on treacherous roads.
“It was four hours of racing,” the Portuguese said. “And I lost four years of life today.”