Defending Tour de France champion Egan Bernal has withdrawn from the race just hours before a mammoth stage in the Alps.
Bernal had been struggling since Sunday’s stage in the Jura mountains, where he dropped more than seven minutes on the main contenders and slipped out of contention.
Hampered by back pain and subsequently knee concerns, the 23-year-old indicated afterwards he hoped to continue out of respect for the race.
But on the morning of Wednesday’s queen stage to the Col de la Loze above Meribel, his team Ineos Grenadiers announced the Colombian was withdrawing from the race, although it did not specify the reason for the decision.
“This is obviously not how I wanted my Tour de France to end, but I agree that it is the right decision for me in the circumstances,” Bernal said.
“I have the greatest respect for this race and I’m already looking forward to coming back in the years ahead.”
Bernal was in 16th place overall, 19 minutes and four seconds behind race leader Primoz Roglic.
“We have taken this decision with Egan’s best interests at heart,” Ineos Grenadiers team principal Dave Brailsford said.
“Egan is a true champion who loves to race, but he is also a young rider, with many Tours ahead of him and at this point, on balance, we feel it is wiser for him to stop racing.”
In 2019 he became the youngest rider to win the Tour de France in 110 years.
Stage 17, arguably the toughest of the race, features the Col de la Madeleine and the Col de la Loze, the Tour’s highest point this year at 2,304 metres.
The traffic-free pass between the ski resorts of Meribel and Courchevel was opened to cyclists this year after a forest track was paved by local authorities.
The last six kilometres of the climb are particularly difficult, with very steep sections and sharp turns.
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AEST = Australian Eastern Standard Time which is 10 hours ahead of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time)
Egan Bernal, Team INEOS, Primož Roglič, 2020 Tour de France, Tadej Pogačar
World news – AU – Reigning champion Egan Bernal abandons Tour de France ahead of 17th stage