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The first 150km of the race saw the peloton battle...

Early exits for Gilbert, Valverde as rain wreaks havoc on Yorkshire worlds

Pre-race favorites Gilbert, Valverde were among early exits as extreme conditions forced changes in the elite men's race

Pelting rain, crashes and fatigue added up early in the elite men’s road race Sunday under rough racing conditions in Yorkshire.

Top favorites Philippe Gilbert and Remco Evenepoel (Belgium) along with defending world champion Alejandro Valverde (Spain) were among the early abandons as heavy rain and cool weather forced organizers to change the route.

Gilbert crashed midway through the race, with teammate Evenepoel waiting to try to pace back his ailing captain. Gilbert regained contact, but later abandoned in tears. Evenepoel, who was second in the elite men’s time trial, also pulled out.

Defending champion Valverde also pulled out under extreme conditions that forced organizers to eliminate two of the day’s major climbs due to standing water on the course. Valverde’s exit could mark an end of an era of Spanish world’s domination that started two decades ago.

Other riders to pull out early included time trial world champion Rohan Dennis (Australia), who did a lot of work early, as well as Vuelta a España champion Primoz Roglic (Slovenia) and Nairo Quintana (Colombia), who both rode into an early breakaway.

Reigning U.S. national champion Alex Howes snuck into the day’s early move, and later Lawson Craddock pulled clear with Stefan Küng (Switzerland) with about 65km to go.

The attrition in extreme racing conditions came after a relentless overnight downpour and flooding that forced organizers to strip 50km the men’s elite road race. That included the celebrated climbs of Buttertubs and Grinton Moor, the stages for wild crowd scenes during the 2014 Tour de France and where droves had been expected Sunday. The race set out from Leeds with the peloton marshaled through huge puddles as floods seeped out of the Yorkshire dales.

The fan park at Harrogate quickly became a quagmire and was closed. Fans were gamely standing four or five deep most of the way around the Harrogate track for the culminating nine laps with water streaming down over-flooded gutters in many sections.

At least those on the course could see the race. Television were cut because the bad weather forced the camera helicopter to land and refuel. The drenched peloton were treated to an extra feeding section before arriving at Harrogate.

— AFP contributed to this report