Mark Cavendish’s eagerly-awaited sprinting showdown with his biggest rivals at the Abu Dhabi Tour ended before it had begun after the Manxman crashed in the neutral zone on stage one and was forced to abandon the race.

Cavendish, who has won three stages in the race’s last two editions, went down after the race commissaires’ car appeared to brake slightly, causing riders behind to unclip and four to hit the ground.

Cavendish was one of those four and, though the Dimension Data man continued to ride, the effects of the crash soon forced him to abandon, with the team confirming he suffered ‘a concussion and whiplash injury’.

Initial fears had been that Cavendish had suffered another shoulder injury – on the same shoulder he broke at last year’s Tour de France – but team doctor Adrian Rotunno confirmed the concussion was the reason he was pulled from the race.

“Mark sustained a concussion and a whiplash injury after his crash today. Due to the concussion, we were not willing to risk rider safety and the call was made for Mark to stop the race," he explained.

“A serious neck injury has been excluded in hospital. He currently has some concussive symptoms and neck pain but is otherwise stable. We will monitor Mark’s condition closely going forward."

Cavendish had initially been set to take on the likes of Marcel Kittel (Katusha-Alpecin), Dubai Tour winner Elia Viviani (QuickStep Floors) and Andre Greipel (Lotto-Soudal), with the race opening with three pan-flat sprint stages.

He is expected to ride Milan-San Remo next month – a race he won back in 2009 – and has been slated for Paris-Roubaix at the start of April too.

The Manx Missile will then turn his attention to the Tour de France, where he will bid to add to his 30 career stage wins.

At the Abu Dhabi Tour, European champion Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) claimed a popular victory for his sponsors in Cavendish’s absence on stage one – the Norwegian will roll out as race leader on stage two.