Defending champion Primoz Roglic suffered a nasty fall as Denmark's Mads Pedersen won stage 16 of the Vuelta a Espana at Tomares in Andalusia on Tuesday.
Aiming for a fourth consecutive Vuelta title, Roglic launched a late attack on the flat stage, hoping to pick up bonus seconds in the sprint to close the gap on race leader Remco Evenepoel.
Adding to the drama, Evenepoel was then hit by a puncture as Roglic looked set to eat into his 1min 34sec overall advantage.
But one hundred metres from the finish line Roglic swerved and fell hard, with his left knee and hand covered in blood.
Evenepoel suffered a stressful few minutes awaiting a decision on timing and expressed relief as Roglic gained only eight seconds.
"I hope Primoz can carry on," said the Belgian Vuelta rookie, who missed a year after falling into a ravine during the Tour of Lombardy in August 2020.
"I'm sad for him. You never want anybody to crash."
- Jumbo face nervous wait -
Jumbo said two hours after the race they were still unsure if Roglic would continue Wednesday.
"Primoz has managed to grab time, but has to pay for it with a huge fall. He is injured, that much is clear. We have to hope that the damage is not too bad and that he can continue his fight," Jumbo's Addy Engels said.
"The eight seconds of time saved are of course not worth the injuries to his body."
The 22-year-old Evenepoel enjoyed a lead of almost three minutes at one point earlier in the race, but suffered the loss of crucial teammate Julian Alaphilippe to injury.
Roglic took back over a minute across two mountain stages over the weekend, with Evenepoel nursing his losses wisely, following at his own pace.
Pedersen's second stage win here extends his large advantage in the race for the sprint green jersey on a sweltering day when the peloton raced at slower than 40kph in southern Spain.
The 26-year-old former world road race champion also expressed concern for Roglic after seeing him stricken on the road just behind the finish line.
"I wanted to go to him here and I saw he was with destroyed clothing," he said. "It's a pity that he crashed. He hasn't been lucky this year. I hope it isn't too bad so he can continue competing for the victory of the Vuelta."
Stage 18 and 20 feature multiple mountains when Roglic and Enric Mas, third in the standings, will hope to attack Evenepoel.
Wednesday's stage ends with a 10km climb at a five percent gradient to an altitude of 2,512m, which creates the possibility of a mini shake-up.