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May 17 (Reuters) – Pascal Ackermann narrowly won Wednesday’s stage 11 of the Giro d’Italia after former champion Tao Geoghegan Hart was forced out of the race after a heavy crash on a slippery descent with around 70km remaining in the 219km ride to Tortona.

UAE Team Emirates rider Ackermann, 29, claimed his third career Giro stage win after beating Jonathan Milan (Bahrain Victorious) and Mark Cavendish (Astana Qazaqstan) to the line in a photo finish at the end of the race’s longest stage.

“It’s a very special victory for me,” German rider Ackermann said.”I showed I can do it and I’m super happy today. All the sprinters are very strong and it was a very tense finish.”

Britain’s Geoghegan Hart (Ineos Grenadiers), who won the Giro in 2020, was riding with his team mates, including overall leader Geraint Thomas, when he hit the ground along with race favourite Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma).

Thomas and Roglic were able to re-join the peloton but Hart, third in the overall standings before Wednesday’s stage, was attended to by medics before being carried on a stretcher into an ambulance.

“I’m devastated this is how my Giro ended. Thank you all for your messages and support. I was so excited about the remainder of this race and loving every minute of it,” Hart posted on Twitter.

Ineos Grenadiers confirmed he had fractured his left hip which will require surgery.”We wish you a speedy recovery and know you have what it takes to come back even stronger,” the team said in a statement on social media.

Movistar rider Oscar Rodriguez also suffered a crash in which he came into contact with a roadside sign and was forced to abandon the race.

Welshman Thomas retained the maglia rosa after maintaining his slender two-second lead over Slovenia’s Roglic.Portugal’s Joao Almeida (UAE Team Emirates) rose to third overall.

“Unfortunately Tao is badly injured,” Thomas said. “It’s obviously a big loss. He was going very well. He was in a really great position and it’s very unfortunate to lose him this way.”

Thomas’s team mate Pavel Sivakov, who was also caught in the crash earlier, dropped out of the top 10 after finishing minutes behind the peloton.

This year’s weather-affected Giro has been hit with several high-profile withdrawals with former race leader Remco Evenepoel (Soudal Quick-Step) having to abandon after testing positive for COVID-19.

Four of Evenepoel’s team mates tested positive for the virus and withdrew from the race earlier on Wednesday.

Thursday’s stage 12 is a 179-kilometre ride from Bra to Rivoli.(Reporting by Martyn Herman in London and Hritika Sharma in Hyderabad, Editing by Christian Radnedge and Toby Davis)

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