A GRUELLING Tour de France claimed its latest high-profile victim yesterday when two-time winner Alberto Contador was forced to retire after breaking his leg in a crash.
Patched-up and bleeding, the Spanish rider ploughed on for 20km with a fractured right shin before admitting defeat and joining 2013 champion Chris Froome and fellow Briton Mark Cavendish among the Tour’s early casualties.
Contador’s premature exit means there is sure to be a new winner of the Tour this year, with Italian Vincenzo Nibali the hot favourite after he reclaimed the leader’s yellow jersey yesterday.
“Before pulling out, he told us he was in awful pain and he couldn’t go any further,” said Philippe Mauduit, director of Contador’s team Tinkoff-Saxo.
“Everything had gone well since the beginning of the Tour. In a fraction of a second it all fell apart, so we’re immensely sad.”
Tinkoff-Saxo’s team manager and former rider Bjarne Riis said Contador’s crash came as he reached for his pocket and the bike slipped “probably because of a bump or hole in the road”.
Astana rider Nibali won the 161km 10th stage from Mulhouse to La Planche des Belles Filles to return to the top of the general classification.
“This is a wonderful victory,” he said. “This was the hardest stage I’ve ever done in a Grand Tour, with seven climbs and so many crashes.”
He leads by two minutes and 23 seconds from Australian Richie Porte, who was promoted to Team Sky’s lead rider after Froome broke his wrist and hand during the race’s first week.
Sprint specialist Cavendish, who had been hoping to add to his 25 Tour stage wins, had to withdraw after dislocating his shoulder in a fall on the first stage in Harrogate.