Professional cycling is a cruel sport. At the beginning of this week, Romain Bardet was justifiably talking up his prospects of finishing high on general classification at this Giro d'Italia. Days later, he was reduced to throwing up on the bike, unable to continue.
You don't see this often in football or cricket, athletes forcing themselves onto the field while vomiting. It isn't fair, cycling isn't fair. It isn't the first time that illness has forced someone out of a bike race, but it doesn't feel any more fine. Bardet might not have been denied his continued participation in a bizarre manner like Biniam Girmay, but is still out nonetheless.
It has robbed the fans, the journalists, the history books, of one piece of a potentially thrilling edition of the Giro. It has also robbed Bardet of a dream opportunity of challenging for a Grand Tour, he had been going so well.
His teammate, compatriot, and namesake Romain Combaud was visibly emotional at the finish. As he might be, considering it's the end of a long term plan for Bardet and DSM to challenge at this Giro.
"There was only one week left. It's horrible for us. He is a great champion," Combaud told the press after stage 14.
"My role today was to stay with him. We said we would have an easy day, and he would get better tonight. But with the heat it was just too much for him.
"We promised to do great things for each other at this Giro. I was happy to come here and help him. Today that hurts but we will carry on."
Combaud was also Bardet's roommate at this race. It must be hard to imagine the remainder of this race without him, it will be a lonely experience. The effort put into 4th on GC so far must have been immense, and just thrown away in s second.
Matt Winston, coach at Team DSM described the situation as "really difficult", which feels like an understatement. Bardet wasn't single-handedly rescuing his team's season, but he almost was.
"It was really difficult," Winston said. "He started the stage yesterday and after about 10km he was being sick. We looked after him through the stage, trying to keep him cool with ice and water and really look after him and nurse him through the stage.
"He slept the whole way back in the bus after the race. He didn't eat last night, he couldn't eat anything. He was awake all night being sick."
One can only imagine the worried looks traded across the team bus and the hotel buffet, as DSM staff and riders wondered what on earth was going to happen, what they were going to do.
What do you do in that situation? When your team leader was visibly unwell and probably unable to continue. I'd probably panic.
"This morning there was a small chance he could finish today but Romain's a fighter," Winston continued. "He wanted to start the stage, he wanted to go for it. But he was already being sick in the neutral and it just wasn't possible to continue.
"He was really ready and we prepared in a really good way in this race. It's super disappointing but we still have options here. We're not going to give up now, we're going to keep fighting, and we'll see where we come in Verona."
Thankfully, DSM have Thymen Arensman in 11th place, under 90 seconds behind the race lead, and they have already won a sprint with Alberto Dainese on stage 11. Unfortunately, there isn't another sprinting opportunity until stage 18, but Arensman might well take this chance to prove himself.
It will not be the same without Bardet, however. The race has now lost one of its leading lights; Grand Tour racing is hard, it is unforgiving, and DSM and their starring Frenchman have faced its nasty side.
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