Last year’s green jersey winner Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) is one of the first high-profile riders to abandon the 2018 Tour de France after suffering sickness and high fever ahead of the fifth stage, while rising Belgian star Tiesj Benoot (Lotto-Soudal) has also been forced to quit the race after crashing on stage four.

Matthews won the 2017 green jersey after a spirited second-half of the race in which he won twice and added 135 points to his tally in the final eight stages.

The Australian was set to be a key part of Tom Dumoulin’s supporting team this time out, as well as targeting stage wins for himself – of which stage five was one identified as a target.

But the 27-year-old – who was ninth overall after the first four days and therefore also in with a small chance of claiming the yellow jersey on stage five – was unable to take to the start line.

“I’m really disappointed to not start this morning. I’ve been really ill and tried all I could to make it to the start line, but feeling like this, it’s simply not possible," said Matthews.

“I will now go home to recover and will continue cheering for the guys from there.”

Confirming Matthews’ illness, Team Sunweb physician Mannes Naeff added: “Unfortunately Michael got sick this morning, he has been vomiting and as the morning progressed he has become more ill.

“We wanted to see how he would feel but with a high fever, we made the decision that it was just not possible for him to take to the start line this morning.”

Tiesj Benoot, crash, blood, Tour de France, 2018, pic - Sirotti

Benoot – another rider who was expected to be hunting stage wins on the Classics-like stages to come – was also a non-starter on stage five.

After crashing with five kilometres to go on stage four, Benoot has been forced to quit due to a dislocated shoulder, among other injuries. The 24-year-old, winner of this year's Strade Bianche semi-Classic, crossed the finish line on stage four covered in blood.

Tsgabu Grmay (Trek-Segafredo) was the first rider to abandon the race, climbing off in the feed zone on stage two, while Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) and Axel Domont (Ag2r-La Mondiale) have also crashed out in an incident-packed first week.