Bradley Wiggins' hopes of a Tour podium went up in smoke yesterday in a pile-up around 40 kilometres from the finish line that saw the Sky leader suffer a broken collarbone.
Sixth overall, Wiggins' exit leaves Sky facing near-catastrophe after their goal of a strong overall finish for the Briton following his disappointing 24th place last year collapsed well before the Tour has even reached the mountains.
After days of rainfall and twisting roads turned this Tour into one of the most crash-ridden of recent years, Wiggins' untimely departure came – ironically enough – on a straight, tree-lined avenue in dry weather.
The peloton was riding fast, but not flat out in the final hour of yesterday's stage, when the final third of the bunch suddenly crumpled into a mass of bicycles and bodies. Wiggins was not initially shown on TV images, but the way Sky riders were clustering around at the side of the road in twos and threes – waiting for their British leader to remount and hopefully for them to guide him back to the finish – was the most ominous of signs.
Then suddenly Wiggins was in range of the cameras, his British national champion jersey ripped, clutching his left shoulder and arm in the classic symptoms of a rider with a suspected broken collarbone – one of the most frequent injuries for bike riders – hobbling across the road, and grimacing with pain.
The race doctor and Sky's medic were by Wiggins almost immediately, easing the dazed British contender to the side of the road, where he sank down on the verge, suddenly unable to stand.
For Sky the loss of their overall contender is arguably the biggest setback any Tour team with aims of finishing high in the overall classifications can face in the race.
"It's tremendously disappointing, he's built up the whole year for this and suddenly it all comes to an end," said Sean Yates, Sky's sports director and a former Tour de France leader.
One of the collateral damage victims of Bradley Wiggins's exit yesterday was a brilliantly executed 17th Tour stage win for Britain's Mark Cavendish (left), on the same finishing straight where he had taken his first-ever victory in the Tour back in 2008.
The look of sheer joy that spread across Cavendish's face as he crossed the line confirmed that the win was in some ways the end of a cycle that started in Châteauroux three years ago. "This is a really special victory for me," Cavendish said.Reuse content