Defending Tour de France champion Egan Bernal has withdrawn from the race just hours before a mammoth stage in the Alps.
- Bernal was in 16th place overall when he withdrew ahead of the 17th stage
- The Colombian had been troubled by back and knee concerns during the race
- He was the youngest Tour de France winner in 110 years when he triumphed last year
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.
After Monday’s rest day, Bernal suffered again on Tuesday’s 16th stage to Villard-de-Lans.
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.
Bernal was in 16th place overall, 19 minutes and four seconds behind race leader Primoz Roglic.
The decision comes five days short of the race’s concluding stage in Paris.
“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.”
Bernal had pulled out of the Criterium du Dauphine with back pains last month.
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.