GRENOBLE, France (AP) – Defending Tour de France champion Egan Bernal has been pulled out of the race ahead of a mammoth stage in the Alps, his Ineos Grenadiers team said on Wednesday.
Bernal had been fighting since last weekend in the Jura Mountains, where he fell more than seven minutes on the main rivals and slipped out of contention. Inhibited by back pain, the 23-year-old rider lost more time during Tuesday’s first alpine stage.
Bernal was in 16th place overall, 19 minutes and four seconds behind race leader Primoz Roglic.
“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,”
Last year, Bernal became the first Colombian to win the Tour and the youngest champion of the era after World War II. His team said Bernal will try to recover as soon as possible and redefine his goals for the rest of the season.
“We have made this decision with Egans’ best interests in mind,” said Ineos manager Dave Brailsford. “Egan is a true champion who loves to ride, but he is also a young rider with many rides ahead of him.”
Bernal’s withdrawal marked the end of Ineos’ dominance at the bike’s biggest event. The successful period started in 2012 with Bradley Wiggins’ victory when the team was called Team Sky. The troupe won seven of the last eight editions with four different riders, but the best placed rider this year is Richard Carapaz, who stood 14th ahead of Wednesday’s stage 17.
Probably the most difficult, trek includes the Col de La Madeleine and the Col de La Loze, the Tour’s highest point this year at 2,304 meters. The traffic-free pass between the ski resorts of Meribel and Courchevel was opened to cyclists this year after a forest path was paved by local authorities. The last six kilometers of the climb are particularly difficult with very steep sections and sharp turns.
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