Alberto Contador suffered a broken leg to crash out of the Tour de France yesterday, Vincenzo Nibali taking full advantage to win the tenth stage and reclaim the yellow jersey.
Two-time winner Contador crashed on the 161.5km stage from Mulhouse to La Planche Des Belles Filles and, after struggling on for 20km in an effort to play catch-up, gave up and withdrew.
The Spaniard’s departure deprives the race of another previous winner after 2013 champion Chris Froome (Team Sky) withdrew with fractures to his left wrist and right hand on stage five last week.
Andy Schleck (Trek Factory Racing), who inherited the 2010 title from Contador following an anti-doping infringement, has also quit the race with a knee injury, although the Luxembourg rider is a shadow of his former self.
None of the remaining riders have won the event, but Nibali yesterday took a significant step in his bid to succeed Froome as champion in Paris on 27 July.
The action was expected to ignite on the concluding climb ahead of today’s rest day and Nibali, who relinquished the lead on stage nine to Frenchman Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Belisol), surged to a second Tour stage win to take control of the race.
Nibali holds a lead of 2mins 23secs from second-placed Richie Porte (Team Sky), who was 25 seconds behind in seventh on the day. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is third, 2:47 behind.
Nibali’s advantage is so commanding that three-time champion Greg LeMond believes it is unlikely the Italian will be beaten. “Personally I don’t think there’s much of a challenge any more,” LeMond told British Eurosport. “If he does have a bad day, I think it’s the only time anyone has a chance. I think it’s wishful thinking, but it could happen.”
Nibali refuses to take his lead for granted, knowing he too could crash out and that Porte and Valverde are lurking. “I feel sorry for Alberto Contador. He crashed just in front of me and I was scared that I’d go down as well, but I don’t know why he crashed. I’ll try to keep the yellow jersey but I won’t be left without rivals. Richie Porte and Alejandro Valverde are up there. I’ll have to handle my advantage.”
The race heads towards the Alps on its resumption tomorrow with the 187.5km 11th stage from Besancon to Oyonnax, but without Contador, the Tour has lost another leading protagonist following Mark Cavendish’s crash on day one and the exits of Froome and Schleck.
Contador, the 2007 and 2009 winner, crashed on the descent of the Petit Ballon as he approached the third of seven categorised climbs, the Col du Platzerwasel, on a damp day in the Vosges Mountains.
Contador’s withdrawal could see him refocus on the Vuelta a Espana, which begins in Jerez on 23 August. Froome and Sir Bradley Wiggins could also ride the Tour of Spain. Froome wrote on Twitter: “Big loss for the TDF today. Recover well @albertocontador & I hope to see you at the Vuelta.”
Nibali, who finished third in the Tour two years ago, attacked with 3km to go yesterday. He surged past Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), the last of the day’s breakaway riders, as Porte tried to follow. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) was 15 seconds behind in second and Valverde third.
Porte said: “I think I was the only one that responded (to Nibali’s attack). When Vincenzo goes, you have to respond. He’s got enough time already so you don’t really want him to get any more.
“It’s a shame to lose Alberto like that. I think it’s definitely going to change the dynamics of the race.
“I think it probably would’ve been a harder finale had Saxo been there.”
On his overall chances, the Australian added: “We’ll take it day by day. I think we’re in a pretty good position going into the first rest day.”