Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) believes he could have won the 2019 Tour de France had it not been for a crash and his abandonment on stage 19.
Pinot sat fifth overall, just 20 seconds behind now race leader Egan Bernal (Ineos). However, on Friday's stage, he felt too much pain in his left thigh to continue and quit at at 36km into the stage.
"I did all I could," the Frenchman said.
"I was convinced [that he could possibly win the Tour], but unfortunately now, I will never know."
Pinot finished third overall in the 2014 Tour de France behind Vincenzo Nibali. He had consistently preformed and this year, pulled it together for one of his best riders.
However, the team revealed that a crash in the 17th stage to Gap caused problems. In a press release, they said: "Thibaut suffers from a muscular lesion on his left thigh. Yesterday, he finished stage 18 with a sharp pain and had troubles walking in the evening."
Pinot added: "I believed I might have had a chance [of continuing], that it would pass. But unfortunately it did not.
"I don't know exactly what the injury is. It started with a little pain after the finish in Nîmes, then it came back yesterday on the last descent."
The French rallied around Pinot as they saw Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) slipping away from the yellow jersey lead. Pinot has a house in Tignes where he lives to train at altitude. He never made there it to the finish to fight because he could not continue and even if he did, the organiser later cancelled the final climb due to heavy rain and a mudslide.
"It will be hard to get over this," Pinot said.
"It is a huge disappointment, clearly," said team boss Marc Madiot. "We have to accept these difficult moments. It is a part of sport."
His star rider had the support of young David Gaudu and had won the Tourmalet stage. It worried their rivals and built confidence in Pinot and Groupama-FDJ.
"I always have confidence in Thibaut Pinot, he is a great rider and always will be," Madiot continued. "He has given so much to the team, to his team-mates, the team staff."
Rival team boss David Brailsford said fans and even the race should nod in appreciation of Pinot's fight.
"He's been a great contributor to the race and French cycling. You know, I admire, I really, really like Thibaut Pinot, I always have," Brailsford said.
"And like everybody else, I thought for a moment there. We all thought, 'He's got a great opportunity of becoming the overall winner.'
"And it was quite surprising to see him pull over. And I felt really sad, you couldn't help but watch those images of without being really genuinely upset and sorry for him."
Thank you for reading 20 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1