By Gregor Brown
Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) abandoned the Tour de France today on the road to La Planche des Belles Filles after injuring his knee and fracturing his tibia in a crash mid-stage. The 2007 and 2009 Tour winner became the second big favourite to abandon following Chris Froome (Sky) on Wednesday.
The Spaniard from Madrid crashed with 95 kilometres to race, just after the Petit Ballon descent, in the 161.5-kilometre stage from Mulhouse. The sun was out, but rain had dampened the road and likely helped cause the crash. His left hip was bloody and shorts ripped, but his right knee seemed to cause him more troubles.
"Alberto crashed on a fast and straight part of the descent," said Tinkoff-Saxo manager Bjarne Riis. He was reaching for his pocket and the bike was swept away under him probably because of a bump or hole in the road. Alberto was in the shape of his life and the entire team had our eyes fixed on the podium in Paris and the work we would have to do to get there."
He re-started after receiving a new bike and new left shoe, chased but abandoned 17.5 kilometres later, at 77.5 kilometres to race.
At that point, in mist and fog, he was around 3-30 minutes behind the favourites group with overall leader Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Belisol) and top favourite Vincenzo Nibali (Astana).
Contador lost time waiting on the right side of the road a race doctor bandaged his knee. He showed no sign of wanting to abandon, however, as he appeared to ask the doctor to hurry so that he could return to his bike.
He spent some time next to the Tinkoff team car with manager Bjarne Riis while, ahead, team Astana took control of the race to limit the time difference to an escape with overall contender Michal Kwiatkowski (Omega Pharma-Quick Step). After checking with a medical van and returning to his team-mates, Contador said good-bye to team-mate Michael Rogers and stopped again on the side of the road near Le Breitfirst.
Contador had been working his way back to the top of the classification after losing time in the cobbled stage to Arenberg on Wednesday. On Saturday up La Mauselaine, he attacked with Nibali and moved further up the overall, this morning sitting ninth at 4-08 or 2-34 behind Nibali.
Even with others in the mix, Contador was considered Nibali's number one rival for the Tour title when the race ends July 27 in Paris. This season, he won the Tirreno-Adriatico and País Vasco stage races, and finished second overall in Algarve, Catalunya and the Critérium du Dauphiné.
At a post-race medical check, it was found that Contador had fractured his tibia, confirmed later by the team.
"Alberto has broken his tibia just below the knee," said Riis. "It’s not a complicated fracture but it probably requires surgery. He will stay with us tonight and tomorrow he will travel back to Madrid to undergo further examinations and a surgery if necessary."
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