Mar 27, 2015 – Geraint Thomas came home alone to win the E3 Harelbeke in Belgium on Friday. The British Sky team rider finished nearly half a minute clear of Zdenek Stybar of the Czech Republic.

AFP/Yuzuru Sunada

Matteo Trentin of Italy led the chasing pack across the line, 38sec behind Thomas. Thomas’ victory was built on an audacious attack 40 kilometers out when only Stybar could keep pace with him.

However, the pair were later joined by Peter Sagan of Slovakia, one of the pre-race favorites, and the trio pulled further away from the chasing pack, opening up a lead of almost a minute at one point. And it was Thomas who found the strength to make a final breakaway four kilometers from home.

Stybar was left for dead as Thomas powered to the line but Sagan was clearly suffering after his exertions and was unable to keep in touch, allowing the peleton to overtake him at the death. The race had earlier been marked by the injury to three-time winner Fabian Cancellara of Switzerland, who suffered two fractured vertebrae in a crash and will miss the rest of the Spring Classics.

The crash, on the cobbles of the first classic of the season, also took down a couple of the other favorites, John Degenkolb and Lars Boon, although they carried on. Three other riders, however, were taken to hospital.

“X-rays have confirmed the worst: 2 fractures of vertebrae in lower back for @f_cancellara means no spring campaign. #E3H,” tweeted Cancellara’s Trek Factory Racing team. The injury is a massive blow for Cancellara, coming in a race referred to as a mini (218km) Tour of Flanders as it takes in many of the same brutal climbs and cobbled sections.

This race leads into the Ghent-Wevelgem on Sunday before the Tour of Flanders and the final cobbled classic, the Paris-Roubaix, on the two following Sundays. Cancellara, 34, won the Tour of Flanders in 2010, 2013 and 2014 and Paris-Roubaix in 2006, 2010 and 2013.

He was one of a number of riders who went down in the spill, 40km into the race, and although he was able to remount and continue he was in obvious pain, and only a few kilometers later he pulled up.

“It all happened so fast. Someone slammed the brakes and there was no way to go, just straight into it,” he said. “I flew over a couple of riders and then landed in a pile of bikes. There were riders everywhere. I fell so hard, and felt pain everywhere. It was sort of reflex to get back on the bike but the pain was hard, in my lower back, left wrist, and my ribs on the back.

“I felt right away that it was a serious crash, but I wanted to try to keep going. I had to stop; the pain was too much. We went to the hospital for scans and this confirmed the pain.” He added: “There is nothing you can do with this injury – no cast, no surgery – but just biting the pain.”

The final 10 Kilometers

X-Ray of Cancellara’s Vertebra

FabianVert_insta

Fabian Cancellara and several riders crash

Results

1. Geraint Thomas (GBR/Sky) 5hr 14min 57sec
2. Zdenek Stybar (CZE) at 25sec
3. Matteo Trentin (ITA) 38sec
4. Alexander Kristoff (NOR) same time
5. Sep Vanmarcke (BEL) s.t.
6. Matti Breschel (DEN)
7. Jürgen Roelandts (BEL)
8. Jack Bauer (NZL)
9. Jens Keukeleire (BEL)
10. Daniel Oss (ITA) all same time