Kiwi cyclist George Bennett's chances of overall glory have ended on a chaotic stage six of the Giro d'Italia.
Bennett lost seven minutes on his rivals on a stage that was overshadowed by a bizarre incident towards the finish when a Team BikeExchange car ploughed into the back of Deceuninck–Quick-Step's Pieter Serry on the final climb.
Thankfully, after a period of shock and grogginess and some angry gesticulating, Serry was able to remount and complete the stage, while the driver, Gene Bates, was thrown out of the race, with commentators calling the driving 'disgraceful'.
The Australian team later took to Twitter to apologise to the Deceuninck-Quick Step team and to Serry saying "Sorry guys, glad to see @Pieter_Serry is back on is bike! Hope he is all OK!"
The apology came after Serry's Deceuninck-Quick Step team had already documented the crash on Twitter, saying it was a "huge scare" and a "heart in the mouth moment".
Upon completing the stage, Serry thanked his supporters and said he was pleased he was able to finish.
The stage had already been lively before the final climb, with the Ineos Grenadiers squad ripping the race apart in fierce crosswinds and heavy rain, but the general classification contenders survived until the final climb, a 15.5 kilometre ascent at an average gradient of six per cent.
Most of the top riders were able to stay in close proximity on the climb, but Bennett, who had already lost time in the cold on stage four, saw his chances for an aspired top-five finish disappear, finishing the stage in 42nd, and now sitting in 31st on the general classification, 8.55 off the lead.
The news isn't all bad for Bennett, who was always an outside chance at achieving his lofty goal, but now – assuming he recovers from the cold – could target becoming the first New Zealander to take an individual stage win at the Giro, as the peloton will now let him join breakaways, given he is no longer a threat for the overall title.
Similarly, if the conditions get better, the Kiwi Jumbo-Visma rider could also potentially aim for the King of the Mountains jersey.
"We came to the Giro to ride a good overall classification with George", Jumbo-Visma sports director Addy Engels said. "We now have to be realistic and conclude that plan can be put on hold for the time being. George was affected by the cold and was completely empty at the end. We gave him dry and warm clothes and tried to give him as much energy as possible. He was able to return on the final climb with the help of Koen [Bouwman], but after that it was all over."
Fellow Kiwi Patrick Bevin is also a chance at claiming a stage victory. Although he is unlikely to triumph in his specialist discipline – the time trial – Bevin has shown good climbing legs in addition to his solid sprinting skills and, on hilly stages which eliminate the pure sprinters, could be the one of the few riders with a quick sprint finish left in the bunch.
Similarly, Bevin could also profit from a breakaway, which is where Switzerland's Gino Mader cashed in this morning, winning the stage.
He finished 12 seconds ahead of former Tour de France winner Egan Bernal, who is shaping as the best climber in the tour, but alongside him was 21-year-old phenom Remco Evenepoel, who will be a major threat if he can stay in touch of the lead, as Evenepoel, a silver medallist in the time trial world championships in 2019 - could put several minutes into the likes of Bernal in the 30.3 kilometre time trial final stage.
Evenepoel sits in second overall, 11 seconds behind 22-year-old Attila Valter, who, while not a threat to win the overall title, became the first Hungarian to take a leader's jersey in a grand tour.