Crash heartbreak for Jay Vine at Vuelta

·3-min read

Jay Vine's magnificent breakthrough Vuelta a Espana has ended wretchedly with the Australian having to be carried on a stretcher into the back of an ambulance after a crash.

The Queenslander was left with his head in his hands on Thursday after being forced to abandon the race when looking overwhelming favourite to win the King of the Mountains prize as the race's best climber with the finish in Madrid just three days away.

On a day Vine had expected to gun for a third mountain-top stage win, race leader Remco Evenepoel produced the tour de force on the category 1 Alto de Piornal, winning the 18th stage from his major rivals with a magisterial display.

But the hopes of Alpecin-Deceuninck's Vine disappeared after just 21km of the demanding route from Trujillo when a mass crash ended with the 26-year-old from Townsville being the worst hit.

He had to be tended to at roadside before he was carried into the race ambulance, clearly distraught and nursing a blood-soaked left wrist.

It was a heartbreaking end to one of the most uplifting stories at this year's Vuelta - that of the man who had graduated from winning an online competition on his turbo trainer to becoming a star of the pro peloton in just a couple of years.

He had begun the day in a dominant position to become only the third Australian to win the mountains classification, after Michael Storer last year and Simon Clarke in 2012.

He had 59 points, almost double the 30 of Richard Carapaz, but a rider has to finish the race to be in contention to win the overall jersey. Instead Olympic champion Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) now leads, having taken maximum points on the day's first climb.

After Vine's heartbreak, there was disappointment for another Australian Ben O'Connor, who could not live with Evenepoel, who sprinted away on the Alto de Piornal to beat his nearest rival, Movistar's Enric Mas, by a couple of seconds.

AG2R Citroen's O'Connor was in the high-powered shake-up but could only finish seventh, 13 seconds down alongside his fellow West Australian Jai Hindley, who finished fourth.

O'Connor, top Australian in the race in eighth place at 9 minutes 34 seconds down on Evenepoel, was annoyed.

"I'm not really happy with my result. I managed the final badly and I may have missed out on the victory. I really wanted to win," he said.

"I was hoping for the last climb to be fast but it was purely tactical and I wasted too many bullets unnecessarily. I should have waited because I felt very strong and it could have worked.

"There are two days left to do better."

Hindley (BORA-Hansgrohe) is now 10th at 12:03 but even the Giro d'Italia champion couldn't live with Evenepoel's push at the finish which has enabled him to stretch his lead to a surely unassailable 2:07.

"It's a perfect day, this was the most perfect day ever," the 22-year-old Belgian told reporters.

"I learned we have to always stay calm, even in the last kilometre we were 15 or 20 seconds off the lead, but we caught (Jumbo-Visma's breakaway leader Robert Gesink) and I went past him with 200 metres to go.

"It's still not done, there's one really hard stage to come and they will attack me, but maybe now it's easier to control as my legs feel really good."