GRENOBLE, France (AP) – Reigning Tour de France champion Egan Bernal has withdrawn from the race ahead of a giant stage in the Alps, his team Ineos Grenadiers said Wednesday.
Bernal had suffered from last weekend’s stage in the Jura mountains, where he lost more than seven minutes on the main contenders and slipped out of the game. Hindered by back pain, the 23-year-old 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.
Last year, Bernal became the first Colombian to win the Tour and the youngest champion of the postwar era. His team said Bernal will try to recover as quickly as possible and redefine his goals for the rest of the season.
“We made this decision with Egans’ interests at heart,” said Ineos manager Dave Brailsford. “Egan is a true champion who loves to race, but he is also a young driver, with many tours ahead of him.”
Bernal’s retirement marked the end of Ineos’ dominance in the biggest cycling event. The period of success began in 2012 with the victory of Bradley Wiggins, when the team was called Team Sky. The team has won seven of the last eight editions with four different riders, but its best driver this year is Richard Carapaz, who finished 14th ahead of Wednesday’s 17th stage.
Arguably the toughest, the trek features Col de La Madeleine and Col de La Loze, the highest point on the Tour this year at 2,304 meters. The pedestrian pass between Meribel and Courchevel ski resorts was opened to cyclists this year after a forest track was paved by local authorities. The last six kilometers of the climb are particularly difficult, with very steep sections and tight curves.
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