That professional cycling is a high risk activity is often overlooked among more celebrated concerns with athletic performance and technical excellence.
Defending champion, Zdenek Stybar (Omega Pharma-Quickstep), received a brutal reminder of the dangers inherent in his sport while seemingly sat pretty just 12 seconds off the race lead.
Desperate to avoid a collision as the road narrowed on the run-in to the finish at Ardooie at the denouement of stage four, Stybar hit the barriers and flipped over the handlebars.
The stricken rider sat in the gutter as the sprint continued, and only after the run to the line had finished was he able to receive medical attention.
A spokesman for his Omega Pharma-Quick-Step team later announced that the Czech had been hospitalised to receive treatment for “deep wounds on the upper and lower lip, as well as broken teeth”.
Much is made – rightly – of the professional cyclist’s extraordinary capacity for physical suffering. Equally impressive is the sheer bravery of the men who race bicycles for a living.
Official UCI WorldTour photographer, Stefano Sirotti, was on hand to capture the action.
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Calm before the storm
Zdenek Stybar signs autographs before a stage that would end in a horrific crash, hospitalisation, and abandonment of the race. pic: ©Sirotti
Race leader, Lars Boom, makes last minute checks to his Bianchi Oltre XR2
Everything in its right place
Fabian Cancellara would set a ferocious tempo in the closing kilometres for team-mate, Giacomo Nizzolo. pic: ©Sirotti
Champion of champions
To be national champion in a country with Belgium's depth of cycling talent is some honour. Jens Debusschere wears the jersey with obvious pride. pic: ©Sirotti
Positioned to strike
Nacer Bouhanni begins the process of positioning himself for an explosive acceleration in the final 200m. pic: ©Sirotti
The Frenchman wastes little time in beginning his victory celebrations. pic: ©Sirotti
Stybar is treated at the scene by medics. Observers were left in little doubt that his race had ended. pic: ©Sirotti
One careful owner
A Katusha rider wheels home a team-mate's stricken steed. pic: ©Sirotti
Taste of success
Bouhanni savours the moment, having gained another victory in cycling's elite UCI WorldTour... pic: ©Sirotti
...while Katusha's Alexey Tcatevitch tentatively makes his way home. pic: ©Sirotti
Lars Boom contemplates another day in the jersey of race leader and the abandoment of the man who deposed him as champion last year. pic: ©Sirotti