THE man who dominated the Giro d'Italia during its visit to Ireland is no longer in the race.
Marcel Kittel, who won both of the opening road stages in Belfast and Dublin, didn't make the start of the 2014 Giro's first stage in Italy from Giovinazzo to Bari due to illness.
The 26-year-old Giant-Shimano rider's team revealed that he had a fever and was unable to continue.
"I am very disappointed about leaving the Giro after such a strong start in good condition, but I do not feel healthy and I am not in the position to start the race in this condition," said Kittel.
"I want to thank my team for their support these past few days and wish them the best of luck for the rest of the race."
Kittel celebrated his birthday on Sunday by claiming victory in stage two on Saturday, from Belfast to the Giant's Causeway and back via the coast road.
He then repeated that success on Sunday in the stage from Armagh to Dublin, pipping Ben Swift, the only British rider in the race, in the final metres.
After a wet day in County Antrim on Saturday, torrential rain marred the resumption of the Giro as it returned to Italian roads as Frenchman Nacer Bouhanni won stage four in Bari.
After Monday's rest day and the transfer from Dublin to southern Italy, the 112-kilometre route from Giovinazzo concluded with an eight-lap circuit in Bari, which was neutralised due to a rider protest.
Fears over the treacherous conditions were proven when they raced for the line on the last of the eight laps as numerous riders tumbled on the slick roads.
Bouhanni (FDJ.fr) recovered from a late mechanical error to launch his bid for the line off the Giant-Shimano sprint train – without Kittel – and take victory ahead of Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek) and Tom Veelers (Giant-Shimano).
Australian Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) did not contest the sprint but retained the race leader's pink jersey.
Matthews explained the reasons for the lack of racing as he said: "From the start it was really slippery.
"Straight away we had a chat in the bunch and decided to neutralise the race. It's a long tour and we all need to stay safe out there.
"It's totally different. Ireland is a country where it always rains and the roads are used to the changing conditions."
One of the pre-race favourites, BMC's 2011 Tour de France champion Cadel Evans, wrote on Twitter: "Thanks for understanding and anticipating the conditions @giroditalia . Sorry, but if we can't stay on our bikes... we can't race. £goodsense."
Despite the circumstances, Bouhanni was thrilled with a first Grand Tour stage win.
"I thought that I would never get back onto the peloton, but the team did very well to get me back on," he said.
"In the final straight I had to give everything and fortunately I won."
Briton Ben Swift was less than impressed by the decision, which encouraged the sprinters to race but had no impact on the general classification.
The Team Sky rider, who was second on stage three in Dublin, was 173rd on the stage.
Swift wrote on Twitter: "Why do all the sprinters have to risk it and not the GC guys. Thanks."