GRENOBLE, France (AP) – Defender of the Tour de France Egan Bernal withdrew from the race on the eve of the mammoth stage in the Alps, said his team Ineos Grenaders.
Bernal has been struggling since last weekend in the Jura Mountains, where he spent more than seven minutes on the main contenders and slipped out of the dispute. Afflicted by back pain, the 23-year-old rider lost more time during the first alpine stage on Tuesday.
Bernal took 16th place overall, 19 minutes and four seconds behind race leader Primoz Roglic.
“Obviously, this is not how I wanted my Tour de France to end, but I agree that this is the right decision for me in such circumstances,”; said Bernal. “I have a lot of respect for this race and I’m looking forward to coming back in the years to come.”
Last year, Bernal became the first Colombian to win the tour and the youngest champion of the era since World War II. His team said that Bernal will try to recover as soon as possible and re-evaluate their goals by the end of the season.
“We made this decision based on Egan’s best interests,” said Ineos manager Dave Brailsford. “Egan is a real champion who loves racing, but he is also a young rider, he has a lot of rounds ahead.”
Bernal’s refusal marked the end of Ineos’ dominance of the biggest event on the bike. The successful period began in 2012 with the victory of Bradley Wiggins, when the team was named Team Sky. The squad has won seven of the last eight releases with four different riders, but the best rider this year was Richard Karapaz, who finished 14th before the 17th stage on Wednesday.
Probably the most difficult in this hike are Col de La Madeleine and Col de La Loze, the highest point of the tour this year – 2304 meters. The freeway between the Meribel and Courchevel ski resorts was open to cyclists this year after local authorities paved a forest path. The last six kilometers of ascent are particularly difficult, with very steep sections and sharp turns.
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