Fabian Cancellara announced his withdrawal from the Tour de France on the race’s first rest day yesterday, becoming the latest big name to exit, albeit the Swiss did so voluntarily.
Unlike previous winners Chris Froome, Alberto Contador, Andy Schleck and 25-time stage winner Mark Cavendish – all of whom crashed out – Cancellara chose to abandon the race prior to the Alps and Pyrenees in order to prepare for September’s Road World Championships in Spain.
Cancellara said in a statement released by his Trek Factory Racing team: “I will travel home now and take a little break. The season has been long for me, starting back in Dubai [in February].
“I have done 59 days of competition this season so far and I have another big goal at the end of this season: the World Championships. It’s not a secret that I’d like to be in my best shape there, so it’s important that I take some rest.”
Cancellara was fifth over the stage five cobbles, a day which he began as one of the favourites for stage victory. His departure, coupled with the exits of Schleck and Danny van Poppel, leaves Trek with six remaining riders.
The Tour continues with today’s 11th stage, the 187.5-kilometre route from Besancon to Oyonnax.
Vincenzo Nibali already has a decent set of Tour de France leader’s yellow jerseys, but he has one put aside for Marco Pantani’s mother. Should he prevail on the French roads, Nibali would become the first Italian rider to win the race since the late Pantani, the 1998 winner who died of a cocaine overdose ten years ago.
“In spite of what happened to him, I would be very proud to succeed Pantani,” race leader Nibali told reporters.
Australian Richie Porte is second, 2mins 23secs off the pace, with Spain’s Alejandro Valverde a further 24 seconds behind.
“Pantani’s mother had offered me one of his yellow jerseys so, if I win this Tour, I will bring one of my yellow jerseys to her,” said Nibali.
The Italian, who is a great connoisseur of his sport’s history (“I can talk to you about Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi, but also about Bernard Hinault and Louison Bobet,” he says), knows that the road to Paris is treacherous.
Although the Astana rider believes the hardest stage was Monday’s trek to La Planche des Belles Filles, which he won to reclaim the yellow jersey, several traps lie ahead.
“The Tour seems easy now but it’s when everything looks easy that it becomes the most difficult,” he said. “There are several riders who lie in wait,” Nibali said, citing Valverde and Porte.
Frenchmen Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot are fourth and sixth respectively with a credible chance of a podium finish and possibly better, according to Nibali.
“We saw it with [Michal] Kwiatkowski yesterday. He went from afar and quickly opened a four-minute gap,” said Nibali.
“We will not make the mistake of underestimating anyone. I made that mistake once, it was in the Vuelta last year and [Chris] Horner won.”
His quest to become the sixth man to win all three grand tours continues today on the ride to Oyonnax featuring four short categorised climbs in the last 50 kilometres. Only Frenchmen Bernard Hinault and Jacques Anquetil, Contador, Belgian Eddy Merckx and fellow Italian Felice Gimondi have won the Tour, the Vuelta and the Giro.