The Irishman appeared to slip on a drain in wet conditions during the team time trial, taking three of his Garmin-Sharp team-mates with him in a dramatic pile-up.
Martin, who had made this race the focus of his season, made little attempt to get back up as he held his collarbone and waited for medical attention.
It was the most dramatic illustration of the huge role the weather played as the first Grand Tour of the season started under damp skies.
Orica GreenEdge took victory, gifting the leader’s pink jersey to birthday boy Svein Tuft and, although they had been the favourites, they could be grateful for being the second team out as they benefitted from dry roads.
The rain soon began to fall, costing general classification hopefuls Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Joaquim Rodriquez (Katusha) significant chunks of time against Nicolas Roche, whose Tinkoff-Saxo team held it together as the roads became more and more slippy, as well as late starters Rigoberto Uran and Cadel Evans.
The weather had not deterred thousands of fans from lining the roads, but the mood changed as the big screens showed Martin tumbling to the ground. Garmin-Sharp manager Jonathan Vaughters reacted to the crash immediately on Twitter.
“So sad. Nothing to be done. Professional bike racing is cruel,” he wrote.
Martin, a stage winner on last year’s Tour de France and cousin of Nicolas Roche, was considered one of the contenders at the start of the race, but the crash left his team’s plans in ruins.
They were able to get five riders to the line together – the minimum required in the team time trial – but they finished three and a half minutes down on Orica GreenEdge’s time of 24 minutes 42 seconds, surely eliminating 2012 winner Ryder Hesjedal from contention too.
It was another huge slice of bad luck for Martin, who was on course to defend his title at Liege-Bastogne-Liege at the end of April before crashing on the final bend. The roads began to dry late on, allowing Rigoberto Uran’s Omega-Pharma Quick-Step team to take second place, just five seconds off Orica GreenEdge, to leave the former Team Sky rider – second in the Giro last year – as the best placed of the GC contenders, with BMC Racing’s third place putting Cadel Evans just two seconds further back.
In the Friends Life Women’s Tour, double Olympic track champion Laura Trott crashed heavily on yesterday’s third stage and had to go to hospital for precautionary scans but is determined to continue in the race. Today’s fourth stage is something of a homecoming for Trott (Wiggle Honda) and her sister Emma (Boels-Dolmans). It will start in their hometown of Cheshunt and finish in Welwyn Garden City, where the pair began racing. Whether Trott takes part depends on her recovery following a crash on the 80.5-kilometre route from Felixstowe to Clacton-on-Sea, a stage she completed.
Trott’s team boss Rochelle Gilmore said: “It was a nasty crash. She was actually shaking, she looked a little bit pale and it was a bit scary. Laura rode to the finish with a group just behind the main peloton, but when she came in I have never seen anyone in so much pain.”
World and Olympic champion Marianne Vos won stage three to take the overall lead entering the final two days of racing. The Dutch Rabobank rider triumphed ahead of stage one winner Emma Johansson (Orica-GreenEdge). Lizzie Armitstead (Boels-Dolmans) was fourth and sits fifth overall, 18 seconds behind Vos Vos took the race leader’s yellow jersey from stage two winner Rossella Ratto, who moved to nine seconds behind in third, with Johannson eight seconds behind Vos.