LottoNL-Jumbo’s George Bennett says he is “devastated” that he has been forced to abandon the Tour de France with a “serious case of man flu”.
The New Zealand-born rider was sitting in 12th position at the beginning of stage 16, over six minutes minutes off leader Chris Froome (Team Sky).
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He started to get ill on Sunday’s stage to Le Puy-en-Velay, and his condition worsened during yesterday’s rest day, when he was unable to eat solid food. He started today’s stage but unpinned his numbers early on.
“I’m devastated to leave,” the 27-year-old said. “I dedicated everything to this race. I spent however many months of my life sitting at the top of the mountain and I’m going home.
“It wasn’t a nice moment. Sitting on the side of the road, you don’t roll into Paris with the planes flying over your head, you get in a team car and get on a plane home to Girona.
“One of the worst things you can do as a bike racer is to leave a bike race, and the Tour de France… you can’t describe it, it sucks.
“That’s part of the job and I knew that when I came here. You have crazy highs and crazy lows. You just have to keep your feet on the ground and put it into perspective. I’ve still had an amazing few weeks here.”
Watch: Tour de France stage 16 highlights
Bennett hoped that he would be able to ride to the finish of stage 16 in Romans-sur-Isère without losing any time to his general classification rivals, but he quickly realised that wouldn’t be possible.
“At kilometre 0.1, when it was straight out of the blocks, I already knew I was in trouble,” he said. “I hoped for a miracle that it would be a day I could get through and survive for the mountains.
“We said I should ride as long as I could, but in the end you start doing serious damage and it’s really dangerous to race when you have a fever.
“On Sunday I noticed I had a fever on the stage. I really struggled and had to drag myself over the hills.
“On the rest day I woke up thinking I was OK, but in the afternoon, I couldn’t even eat dinner so they made me a milkshake.
“I’m sorry to everyone who has backed me, but that’s bike racing. There’s plenty more of them and you have got to remind yourself it’s just a bike race.”
Bennett now hopes to ride San Sebastian at the of the month, before possibly targeting another top-10 in the Vuelta a España, where his best result was tenth on GC in 2016.
“I hope I can be back for San Sebastian,” he confirmed. “The Vuelta is definitely on the radar now, so I’ll see if I can recover from this one first. But I still have a serious case of man flu.”