Crash causes chaos in Italy
Team Sky were among several teams who endured a miserable day on stage six of the Giro d'Italia as a large crash decimated the field.
Every Team Sky rider was caught up in massive tumble which took out almost the entire peloton on the run in to the final climb of the day, and only four riders emerged from the carnage to battle it out for victory in Montecassino.
Pink jersey holder Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) and Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) were among that quartet, with Matthews sitting on Evans' wheel for much of the last ascent before rounding his Australian compatriot and outsprinting Tim Wellens (Lotto Belisol) for his first Giro victory. Evans held on for third place on the stage, with Matteo Rabottini (Neri Sottoli) rounding out the top four.
A large chase group containing the likes of Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma - Quick-Step) and Ivan Basso (Cannondale) rolled home 49 seconds later, but Dario Cataldo was the first Team Sky rider over the finish line, one minute 37 seconds adrift.
Those results had a major impact on the general classification and Matthews' triumph moved him into a 21-second lead over Evans at the top of the standings. With Matthews likely to fall out of contention when the race hits the mountains, though, Evans is now favourite to take the overall title as he sits 57 seconds ahead of Uran, 1min 45sec ahead of Basso, and 1min 48sec ahead of Quintana.
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) was the biggest casualty from the pre-race favourites, losing seven minutes 43 seconds and bidding farewell to his Maglia Rosa ambitions.
In stark contrast to the late drama, most of the stage had passed predictably enough with four riders forging clear soon after the start, and they were allowed a whopping 14-minute advantage before the peloton roused themselves into action behind.
Orica-GreenEdge did the lion's share of the pace-setting, although Team Sky did lend a hand with Salvatore Puccio and Bernhard Eisel both taking long turns on the front in support of Edvald Boasson Hagen. When Trek Factory Racing and Katusha also chipped in, the break's lead began to fall gradually, and they were brought back into the fold with just under 12km remaining.
No sooner had the catch occurred, however, when the wet, slippery roads played their part once again and descended the race into chaos. Kanstantsin Siutsou was one of several riders downed on a slick patch of asphalt, and most of the field hit the deck seconds later as they tried to circumnavigate a seemingly innocuous roundabout.
Unaware of what had happened behind, BMC Racing and Orica-GreenEdge continued to push the pace as they hit the final climb, and Matthews and Evans emerged as the day's big winners as many floundered behind them.
After the stage, Sports Director Dario Cioni admitted it had been a tough day for everyone involved but was pleased to report no Team Sky riders had been seriously affected by their falls.
He told Team Sky: "We didn't see much of the crash itself in the Jagaur, only the bikes and bodies lying everywhere when we arrived at the roundabout.
"Bernie and CJ were our only riders not to come down in the crash, but they were still caught up behind it and they waited to make sure everyone else was OK. Fortunately, it looks like none of our riders went down too badly, but we'll continue to assess them overnight and then see how things stand in the morning.
"It was a really unlucky situation as it had only just started to rain and if they had passed that spot 10 minutes beforehand then everyone would have been fine.
"Not surprisingly, the mood wasn't great on the bus at the end and Cataldo was disappointed that he lost time on the GC. He did a good ride on the last climb though to limit his losses and dropped some good riders along the way. That proves he's in good form and we'll continue to look out for him on the GC.
"This is a long race and we've seen already that things can change every day. It's not impossible for him to get back in contention and there's a long way to go.
"Tomorrow looks like it could be a sprint stage so we should be riding for Ben [Swift] and Edvald [Boasson Hagen]. We'll see how they're feeling in the morning and then make a call. It's going to be a special day for Salvatore because the race finishes near his home town. His local knowledge will help us a lot so we're hoping for better news tomorrow."