GRENOBLE, France (AP) – Defending Tour de France champion Egan Bernal has pulled out of the race ahead of a huge stage in the Alps, his Enos Grenadiers team said on Wednesday.
Bernal struggled in the Jura Mountains of the previous weekend, where he fell over the main contenders for over seven minutes and out of contention. Upset with back pain, the 23-year-old rider lost more time during the first alpine phase of Tuesday.
Bernal finished 16th overall, 19 minutes and four seconds behind race leader Primose Rosic.
“This is clearly not how I wanted to end my Tour de France, but I agree that this is the right decision for me under the circumstances,” Bernal said. “I have the greatest respect for this race and I am already looking forward to coming back in the coming years.”
Last year, Bernal became the first Colombian to win the tour and the youngest champion since World War II. His team said that Bernal would try to recover as soon as possible and redefine his goals for the rest of the season.
“We made this decision keeping Egan’s best interests in mind,” said Ineos manager Dave Brilsford. “Egan is a true champion who loves running, but he is also a young rider who has many tours ahead of him.”
Bernal’s return marked the end of Inos’ dominance at the biggest event in cycling. The successful period began with a Bradley Wiggins victory in 2012, when the team was called Team Sky. The squad won seven of the last eight editions with four different riders, but its best-placed rider this year is Richard Carapaz, who finished Wednesday’s Stage 17 through 14th.
The most difficult, in the trek are Col de La Madeleine and Col de La Loze, the highest point of the year at 2,304 meters. A traffic-free pass between the ski resort of Maribel and Courchevel was opened to cyclists this year, as forest tracks were paved by local authorities. The last six kilometers of climbing are particularly difficult, with very steep currents and sharp turns.
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