Brussels - Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara has been ruled out of the Spring Classics after suffering broken vertebrae in a bad crash at the E3 Harelbeke in Belgium, which was won by Geraint Thomas on Friday.
The Swiss classics champion - a three-time winner of both the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix - crashed along with a group of 50 riders on the cobbled Haaghoek descent 40km into the first classic of the season.
The 34-year-old got back in the saddle and continued in obvious pain, only to pull up 10km later and climb into the Trek team car.
"It all happened so fast. Someone slammed the brakes and there was no way to go, just straight into it," said Cancellara.
"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."
Scans later revealed two fractured vertebrae as the rider confirmed he would miss the rest of the Spring Classics.
"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.
It is a big blow to Trek Factory Racing ahead of the Tour of Flanders on April 5 and Paris-Roubaix on April 12.
Cancellara won the Tour of Flanders in 2010, 2013 and 2014 and Paris-Roubaix in 2006, 2010 and 2013.
"We know how much Fabian is important for us, so we are of course very dejected to hear this news," said Trek general manager Luca Guercilena.
"Certainly it's not great news for our team, but that does not mean it's over. We have some very good riders that will now have their chances."
The crash also took down a couple of the other favourites - John Degenkolb and Lars Boom - although they carried on.
Thomas, 28, became the first British rider to win the prestigious 218km race.
The Sky rider clocked 5 hours 14 minutes 57 seconds to finish nearly half a minute clear of Czech rider Zdenek Stybar. Italy's Matteo Trentin finished on front of the chasing pack 38sec behind Thomas.
Thomas took control with just over four kilometres left to drop breakaway riders Stybar and Slovakia's defending champion Peter Sagan.
His victory was built on an audacious attack 40 kilometres out when only Stybar could keep pace with him.
Stybar was left for dead as Thomas powered to the line but Slovak Peter Sagan, one of the pre-race favourites, was clearly suffering after his exertions and was unable to keep in touch, allowing the peloton to overtake him at the death.
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.
Results in the 215km E3 Harelbeke cycling classic in Belgium on Friday:
Geraint Thomas (GBR/Sky) 5hr 14min 57sec
2. Zdenek Stybar (CZE) at
3. Matteo Trentin (ITA) 38sec
4. Alexander Kristoff (NOR) same
5. Sep Vanmarcke (BEL) s.t.
6. Matti Breschel (DEN)
8. Jack Bauer (NZL)
9. Jens Keukeleire (BEL)
Daniel Oss (ITA) all same time