Defending champion Chris Froome has crashed out of the Tour de France as Vincenzo Nibali took control of the race.
Dutchman Lars Boom brilliantly won Wednesday’s wet and cobbled 152.5km stage from Ypres in Belgium to Arenberg du Porte Hainaut, but the big winner was Nibali.
Expertly marshalled by his Astana teammate Jakob Fuglsang, the Italian came home in third, 19sec behind Boom, but put significant time into all his main rivals for the final victory in Paris.
Froome’s abandonment was the biggest news of the day as the Briton suffered a nightmare race.
“Devastated to have to withdraw from this years TDF. Injured wrist and tough conditions made controlling my bike near to impossible.” Froome tweeted after the stage.
The 29-year-old had already crashed on Tuesday’s stage and was wearing a splint to protect his left wrist.
But he toppled again just 40 minutes into Wednesday’s stage and when he went down another time an hour later.
In visible pain, and holding his right arm across his body, he climbed into a Sky team car, his race over.
His two crashes came before the peloton had even reached the perilous cobbled sections on the stage.
The next biggest loser was Alberto Contador, who trailed in 2min 54sec behind Boom and is now 19th overall and 2:37 behind Nibali.
Other overall contenders didn’t fare much better, with world champion Rui Costa, Spaniard Alejandro Valverde and American Tejay Van Garderen now all 2:11 back.
Criterium du Dauphine winner Andrew Talansky is 2:05 off the pace while Australian Richie Porte, now Team Sky’s leader in the absence of Froome, is probably the best placed of the potential winners at 1:54, although an eye should be kept on young Pole Michal Kwiatkowski who is just 50sec back.
Nibali said it was unfortunate for Froome but that crashes were part of cycling.
“I’m sorry for Chris, he fell yesterday and today, but that’s also part of cycling,” he said.
Although the day went almost perfectly for Nibali - he did at one point come off his bike when a teammate skid off the rode in front of him on a bend - he insisted he wouldn’t get too excited by the gap to his rivals.
“It’s a good advantage over Contador but there’s a long way to go to Paris. I have to stay calm and have a good race and a good strategy for the coming stages.”
Froome was one of the first riders to fall but there were crashes all over the slippery wet roads during the first half of the race.
Van Garderen, Valverde and sprinters Marcel Kittel, who won three of the first four stages, Alexander Kristoff and Andre Greipel all went down.
There were fewer crashes once the peloton hit the cobbles but that’s when the splits started.
Talansky and Jurgen Van den Broeck were caught out on one cobbled section and lost touch with Nibali’s group.
Contador had lost ground on the first cobbled section and by the end of the second he was already more than a minute behind, while Valverde and Van Garderen had to chase back just to join his group due to their earlier
Up front an early breakaway was caught 28km from home, its numbers having been whittled down from nine to four.
The new lead group got smaller with every cobbled section.
Boom’s teammate Sep Vanmarcke punctured while Nibali broke free with two teammates.
Boom rode back to them and then attacked on the final cobbles, using his strength to ride away to victory.
“I was smiling already this morning when I looked outside and saw rain,” he said.
“It was important for me because my contract ends this year and for the team because we’ve lost our sponsor (for next year).
“It was a special day and a heroic day to see, especially with the rain and cobbles and mud.”
Nibali wilted a little in the end as Boom disappeared into the distance but Fuglsang shepherded him to the line to keep gaining time on his rivals.