Tour de France champion Chris Froome was among those who abandoned the Road World Championships men’s elite race amid treacherous conditions in Tuscany yesterday.
The race eventually was won by Portugal’s Rui Costa, who blew past Joaquim Rodriguez of Spain in a sprint for the line.
Froome’s teammate, Geraint Thomas, was the last member of the British team to withdraw with 30 kilometres of the 272.5km course remaining, and the Welshman described what he witnessed on the roads as “carnage” after torrential rain resulted in a succession of crashes.
Former Tour de France winner Sir Bradley Wiggins and sprint king Mark Cavendish fell early on, the victims of a pile-up involving multiple riders, and Steve Cummings suffered a tyre puncture.
With around 80km of the course left and having lost most of his teammates, Froome withdrew.
It ended Froome’s bid to become the first man since Greg LeMond in 1989 to win the Tour de France and World Championships road race in the same year.
The appalling weather made it a nightmarish experience for the riders in a day of high drama.
Costa and Rodriguez pulled away in the final kilometre, but it was the Portuguese, who led for the first time, who had the strength to claim the rainbow jersey, with Spain’s Alejandro Valverde finishing third.
“Even before going out on to the circuit there were crashes everywhere. It’s just the weather – it hadn’t let up all day,” Froome said.
“It had been raining solidly and all the drains started flooding and in some points on the road, it was quite deep with water.
“People were trying to move up on the sides but were getting stuck in the gutters, causing most of the crashes.
“The conditions were the same for everyone, so there are no excuses, we just weren’t there.
“After three laps, the splits started happening, and I saw that I didn’t really have any teammates with me and thought, ‘This is not going to happen for me’.”
Rodriguez attacked several times in the final lap but Costa caught him in the finishing straight and easily won the sprint for the biggest victory of his career.
In the final kilometre, Rodriguez turned around and said something to Costa.
“He told me to pass him,” Costa said. “Obviously, I didn’t want to pass him. Then it was just a tactical game. I was just hoping my legs wouldn’t fail me and they didn’t.”
Costa clocked seven hours, 25 minutes, 44 seconds to become the first Portuguese winner in the race’s 86-year history.
Thomas conceded that once the hilly course from Lucca to Florence had claimed Wiggins and Cummings, it was all over for Froome and Great Britain.
“It wasn’t the best day on the bike. We had Chris as the leader and he wasn’t on a great day,” Thomas told the BBC.
“Brad and Steve are our two strongest to be with Froome and we lost them as soon as we hit the circuit.
“It’s not ideal and the rest of us didn’t have the legs to do anything in the final. We all committed to getting Chris there, it just wasn’t to be. It was carnage out there. As soon as you drifted into the second half of that peloton, there were crashes everywhere. I saw at least five or six crashes in front of me.”
* Press Association