March 27, 2015

HARELBEKE, Belgium (AP) British rider Geraint Thomas won the E3 Harelbeke classic on Friday after launching a late attack, while three-time winner Fabian Cancellara sustained two minor fractures to his lower back after being caught in a crash.

The 34-year-old Cancellara was among several riders downed in a mass crash on a cobblestone section about 40 kilometers (25 miles) into the race. The Trek Factory Racing team says the Swiss rider will miss the rest of the Classics campaign.

''It all happened so fast. Someone slammed the brakes and there was no way to go, just straight into it,'' said Cancellara, who will miss the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix classics. ''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.''

Thomas, who rides for Sky, attacked Czech rider Zdenek Stybar and defending champion Peter Sagan of Slovakia with four kilometers (2.5 miles) to go and held on to win the World Tour race.

''I can't quite believe it. That last attack took me back to my track days,'' said Thomas, an experienced Tour de France rider who usually plays a supporting role. ''It was hard out there. The three of us worked well together and I wasn't sure if they were bluffing a bit near the end, panting and pulling faces, but fortunately they weren't, and it was great for me.''

Thomas had shown some good form earlier this month at the Paris-Nice stage race, where he helped teammate Richie Porte to victory. His attack, into a strong headwind, was too good for Stybar, who finished second.

''This six-week period we're in from Paris-Nice to Paris-Roubaix is my big focus of the season,'' Thomas said. ''I felt good again at Milan-San Remo, and to get the win now is really special.''

Sagan was caught and Italian rider Matteo Trentin sprinted to third, while Norwegian rider Alexander Kristoff - who won the 2014 Milan-San Remo classic - was fourth.

Last year, Cancellara was held back because of a mass crash some 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the finish.

Cancellara, who has won 10 classics and eight stages of the Tour, got back into his saddle but abandoned a short while after.

''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,'' he said. ''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.''

Lars Boom and John Degenkolb, who won the Milan-San Remo last weekend, also fell but they were able to continue.

There was another crash later in the race, when Belgian rider Greg Van Avermaet misjudged a corner and flew over the handlebars, landing heavily his back.

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