Michael Matthews and Cadel Evans capitalised on a split in the peloton caused by crashes on wet roads on stage six

The abbey at the top of Montecassino, which the US bombed hard in World War II, saw another battle today in the Giro d’Italia‘s sixth stage. A crash at the base with 11.2 kilometres to go left many riders behind – Giampaolo Caruso appearing worse off – and opened a gap in the group… and began a debate.

Michael Matthews won in the pink jersey and Cadel Evans gained 53 seconds, but the move left some asking whether they should have waited before climbing to the abbey.

“The race went from four lanes to one lane at the roundabout, when it’s like that and you’re going at 60 kilometres an hour, and everybody wants to be at the front, there’s always going to be a crash,” Matthews said. “Unfortunately, that’s the way racing is these days, it’s all about positioning.”

Matthews rode free with Orica team-mates Luke Durbridge, Ivan Santaromita. Evans had BMC’s Steve Morabito, Manuel Quinziato and Daniel Oss. Matteo Rabottini (Neri Sottoli) and Tim Wellens (Lotto-Belisol) were along for the ride, too.

BMC did the majority of the work, first Oss and Quinziato, then Morabito. At the top, Matthews’ remaining team-mate Durbridge pitched in. He then followed Evans in the final kilometre and passed left to sprint for the win. Evans placed third and took four bonus seconds.

Rain fell lightly and the clocked ticked, 49 times or seconds, before the first rider of the chasing group came to the abbey.

Michele Scarponi lost 1-37 minutes, Joaquím Rodríguez 7-43 and Nicolas Roche 15-08. Other favourites, like Rigoberto Urán and Nairo Quintana, were in the 49-second group. Rodríguez and his team-mates Caruso and Ángel Vicioso went straight to the hospital afterwards.

“I’ve already heard the polemics but what could we do?” BMC sports director, Valerio Piva said. “For starters, I couldn’t talk to them because I was on the side of the road with my riders who had fallen. They were in front, they were riding and they were up there in a favourable position. Risks are part of the race.”

“Is it fair play? Yeah, they are thinking about the win, they don’t know who’s behind and what’s happening,” Orica’s general manager, Shayne Bannan said.

“It’s in the last 10 kilometres and your adrenalin’s going, you’re thinking about winning the Giro d’Italia, and you keep going. We were in the same position, we had Luke Durbridge on the front. It was really bad luck for the guys who fell, but our guys had Michael in good position and took advantage of that.”

In other races, riders waited. In the 2012 Tour, when tacks caused several punctures, Sky slowed the peloton. Fabian Cancellara also did so in the 2010 Tour when several riders crashed due to slick roads. Evans, however, would be quick to remind critics of another incident, the 2009 Vuelta a España, when the Spaniards attacked while he dealt with a puncture.

Matthews said the weight primarily fell on BMC’s shoulders, but that his group followed racing’s unwritten rules.

“I don’t think they really attacked, but I know that my team definitely didn’t ride,” Matthews added. “Our plan was just to stay on BMC because I had the jersey and I had to try and conserve it. In the end, that’s racing.”