Nicolas Roche’s intention to continue building on the three days he spent in the race lead of the Vuelta a España was frustrated on Thursday after he crashed out of the race.
Roche hit the ground some 100km into the 198.9km stage to Ares del Maestart, coming down in a large crash.
He continued initially, dropping back to the race doctor's car for an on-bike evaluation but was subsequently obliged to stop. Former Tour de France runner-up Rigoberto Uran and his EF Education First team-mate Hugh Carthy were also forced to abandon.
The crash was a bitter blow to Roche who was showing his best form of recent seasons in the Vuelta. He finished a superb second on Sunday’s second stage and took over the race lead. He then held it until Wednesday’s first summit finish, dropping to fifth overall.
Roche started Thursday’s stage just 57 seconds off race leader Miguel Ángel López (Astana). “It was quite a high speed all day today and unfortunately on one of the downhills, there was quite a big crash involving almost all our riders,” said team coach Luke Roberts afterwards. “Unfortunately Nico had to abandon the race at that point and he was taken to hospital.”
Roche was assessed in hospital in Castellón. He was cleared of major injury but diagnosed with bad bruising to one leg and needed a dozen stitches.
“There’s not much to say. I think this is one of the biggest disappointments I’ve had in my career. I’d worked so hard to get back to this level and it was a new opportunity to show that I was at this level again,” said Roche. “There’s nothing broken which is the good point. I have some stitches in my forearm and pain in my quadriceps which is why I could not continue.”
Bennett still in green
The race was Roche’s 22nd Grand Tour of his career and only the second from which he has withdrawn. He was previously fifth and sixth overall in the Vuelta and had hoped to fight for another top 10 finish in the general classification.
Ireland's other competitor, stage-three winner Sam Bennett (Bora-hansgrohe) continues in the race. He finished 16 minutes back on Thursday's stage, which was won by the Spanish rider Jesus Herrada (Cofidis Solutions Credits) ahead of Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida). The main bunch of favourites came in over five minutes back, enabling Teuns to take over the race leader's red jersey.
Bennett remains in the green jersey of points leader and is biding his time until he has another chance for a sprint win on the flatter stages. Saturday’s undulating stage to Igualada could potentially work in his favour, although much will depend on how he feels and how the racing plays out.
In other news, Ireland’s Greg Swinand put in a superb performance in the UCI’s Gran Fondo world championships in Poland on Thursday, winning the time-trial for riders aged 50- to 54-years-old.