Julian Dean's hopes of riding in a fifth Olympic Games look bleak after he was involved in a crash on the Tour of Catalunya overnight and broke his leg.
The 36-year-old, who has competed in seven Tours de France and was regarded as the world's best lead-out rider, was involved in a pile up only 5km into the 210km stage in the Pyrenees.
Organisers cut short the stage before the final two climbs of the day as snow, wind and rain hit the peloton. A number of riders pulled out of the tour on a challenging day, including RadioShack-Nissan's Andy Schleck and Movistar's Alejandro Valverde who did not even start the day, but Dean's accident overshadowed events.
He swerved to avoid riders in front of him who had crashed in the slippery conditions but hit a parked car.
The GreenEdge rider is due to have an operation on his leg which would put him out of action for some time. It was his first race back after recovering from a broken shoulder sustained in a training crash in New Zealand before Christmas.
"We are especially distraught about this loss," GreenEdge team director Neil Stephens said. "From a sporting perspective, it's terrible to lose a rider to a crash. From a personal perspective, we really feel for him. He has had a lot of bad luck this year and Catalunya was his first race back after a previous injury.
"He'll have an operation tonight in Valencia - his home base in Europe. We preferred for him to have surgery at home to make things easier for him and his family."
Dean won a bronze medal on the track at the 1994 Commonwealth Games and also competed at Atlanta in the team's pursuit but switched to the road for the 2000, 2004 and 2008 Olympics.
"He's a consummate professional and he's had a number significant injuries, as you do in the pro peloton, and he just keeps on coming back," BikeNZ high performance director Mark Elliott said. "It will be up to him to decide where he's going but don't be surprised to see Julian Dean back, even after another major injury like this."
Dean's injury has narrowed the options for the New Zealand road team in London. Only two riders were likely to qualify for the Olympics with Dean, Greg Henderson, Hayden Roulston and Jack Bauer, who all ride on the Pro Tour, the leading contenders.
But BikeNZ are also looking into whether one of their track riders could compete instead, giving them the luxury of beefing up their track team which is restricted to just nine men's riders across all track disciplines. The emergence of the men's sprinting programme has created a good problem for BikeNZ but limited their options around things like reserves for the team's pursuit.
BikeNZ have sought clarification from world body UCI to establish whether they could do that.
"Our objective around Olympics is winning medals and if the best option is riders who can transfer, we have to consider that when we come to naming our team," Elliott said. "A lot of that will be depending on results from next month's track world championships and also making sure our intention to do that are well and truly signed off by the international body.
"A lot of our competitors, their road teams are so big. The Poms are picking [Mark] Cavendish to win. They aren't going to be pulling people from their road programme into their track programme. We are the opposite. We know we aren't going to have a full team so it will be six against two. You have to look at the realities around that.
"But it also creates opportunities. Not having a massive presence in the peloton, we have some fairly wily guys we are considering, and they will know how to position themselves as the race pans out."
Fellow Kiwi Sam Bewley, who is an emerging talent on the road but also part of the pursuit team, tweeted: "Heart sunk as I just read a tweet that Julian Dean has broken his leg. Too many bad things happen to too many good guys! All the best Jules!"