Jay Vine, Australia's leading rider in the Vuelta a Espana, has been forced to abandon the Spanish Grand Tour after injuries following a crash on the sixth stage.
On a day in the mountains when reigning champion Remco Evenepoel also suffered, losing the overall lead and dropping to ninth overall, Vine's race ended early with a crash on a descent during the 183.1km run from La Vall d'Uixo to Observatorio Astrofísico de Javalambre.
The leading Australian going into the stage, lying in 13th place in the general classification less than a minute behind Evenepoel, this brutal stage, with nearly 4000 metres of climbing, had shaped as a day when the 27-year-old from Townsville might shine.
But Vine's year, which had begun so spectacularly with a triumphant home campaign in Australia, has turned into a troubled, crash-strewn one ever since he hit the European roads and once again, he suffered on Thursday with less than 50km gone .
"Unfortunately, Jay Vine has been forced to abandon the 2023 Vuelta a Espana following a crash on stage 6," an official statement from his team said. "He is en-route to hospital to be checked over."
A later bulletin reported: "Luckily it’s no fractures for Jay following his crash, but he has extensive abrasions on his left side and a laceration over his elbow. Get well soon, Jay."
Vine's Vuelta ended in similar miserable fashion in 2022 when he was wearing the King of the Mountains jersey as the race's top climber only to suffer a crash three days out from the finish in Madrid which resulted in him being taken to hospital in an ambulance.
The Queenslander started this year by winning the Australian time trial title and the Tour Down Under crown, and he had looked poised for a spectacular European season which never materialised as he suffered an early season injury, struggled in the Giro d'Italia and then had to abandon the Tour de Suisse with a shoulder injury after another spill.
Lenny Martinez, the young Groupama FDJ star from France, moved into the red jersey after a dramatic sixth stage won by Jumbo Visma's Sepp Kuss on the Javalambre climb.
The American Kuss took the stage victory out of a huge breakaway group while his fancied teammates Primoz Roglic and Jonas Vingegaard put more than 30 seconds into Evenepoel.
On the steep ramps of the final climb, Kuss went solo with 2.5km remaining as the American, who worked tirelessly for Roglic at the Giro d'Italia and Vingegaard at the Tour de France, took his personal reward.
Martinez leads by eight seconds from Kuss with Evenepoel dropping 2:47 off the pace, and just five seconds ahead of Tour de France champion Vingegaard and 11 seconds clear of Giro winner Roglic with Jumbo Visma set to control affairs in the massive mountains to come over the next fortnight.
But Evenepoel was maintaining a brave face, shrugging: "If this was a bad day then it's okay."