Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) has abandoned the 2014 Tour de France after crashing on stage ten.
The two-time champion was forced to change bikes after hitting the deck on a wet descent and required lengthy medical attention to his right knee before getting back in the saddle.
A number of team-mates rallied around Contador to help pace the Spaniard back to the peloton, led by Vincenzo Nibali’s Astana team, but, after dropping back to the Tinkoff-Saxo team car to receive further attention, and a deficit of nearly five minutes to make up, Contador climbed off his bike with 80km of the 161.5km stage remaining and abandoned the race.
Tinkoff-Saxo manager Bjarne Riis later confirmed Contador had suffered a fracture to his right tibia and that the 31-year-old is likely to undergo surgery.
“Alberto crashed on a fast and straight part of the descent,” said Riis. “He was reaching for his pocket and the bike was swept away under him probably because of a bump or hole in the road. Alberto was in the shape of his life and the entire team had our eyes fixed on the podium in Paris and the work we would have to do to get there.
“After the crash, Alberto got back on the bike and we tried for about 18km to keep him in the race. Despite his best efforts and an impressive show of willpower, he had to abandon the race.
“Alberto has broken his tibia just below the knee. It’s not a complicated fracture but it probably requires surgery. He will stay with us tonight and tomorrow he will travel back to Madrid to undergo further examinations and a surgery if necessary.
“We will naturally have to look ahead. But right now it’s to early to say anything about the possibility of Alberto riding Vuelta a Espana. It depends on his recovery and on how fast he can get back on the bike and start training again.”
Contador’s departure means the Tour is now without its two pre-race favourites before the first rest day after Chris Froome (Team Sky) previously abandoned on stage five, while a new champion will be crowned in Paris after the 2010 winner, Andy Schleck (Trek Factory Racing), also quit the race after crashing on stage three.
Nibali is in pole position to stand on the top step of the podium, with the Italian national champion regaining the overall leader after winning stage ten.
And the 29-year-old, who has previously won the Giro d’Italia (2013) and Vuelta a Espana (2010), said he was “sorry” to see Contador crash out.
“I’m sorry for Alberto,” said Nibali. “He fell in front of me. I was afraid for a few seconds, my Tour could have stopped there.”
He added: “It was on a descent, the road surface was not very good. He passed me with [Daniele] Bennati and three seconds later, he rolled on the ground, it must have been 60kph.”