Tour de France 2014: 'Destroyed' Alberto Contador crashes out of the Tour to follow Chris Froome in abandoning his campaign - and leaving the door open for Vincenzo Nibali

Contador crashes on stage 10, and is forced to abandon his camapign

The battle for the Tour de France took another dramatic turn yesterday when the second of the two pre-race favourites, Alberto Contador, fell and was forced to quit.

The Spaniard, who was said afterwards to be “mentally destroyed” at having to abandon the race, joins Britain’s Chris Froome on the casualty list and leaves Vincenzo Nibali in pole position for the title. The Italian reclaimed the overall lead yesterday with a superb solo triumph forged with an attack 2.5km from the line. Sky’s Richie Porte rode strongly to move into second place overall, but Contador’s sudden exit overshadowed Nibali’s return to the yellow jersey.

The first TV images of double Tour de France winner Contador’s crash showed the Spaniard hunched over slightly and standing on the side of the road on a rain-soaked descent 95km from the finish. Blood was seeping from a deep cut on his right knee, the back of his jersey was ripped open, his Tinkoff-Saxo team car was drawn up beside him and mechanics and team staff were already trying to tend his injuries.

Contador was soon picked up by the Team Tinkoff-Saxo car, ending his 2014 Tour de France campaign

Contador initially seemed to take things calmly, asking for a replacement left shoe which he sat down to change, allowing a bandage to be wrapped around his knee, and then insisting he was well enough to race on.

Almost the entire Tinkoff Saxo team, meanwhile, dropped back to try and assist their suffering leader, with other dropped riders glancing at Contador in disbelief at his lowly position as the Spaniard’s squad drove as hard as possible to try and pull him back into contention.

However, the pursuit proved fruitless, with Contador clearly in pain, dropping back again towards his team car and receiving a comforting arm round his shoulder from a team-mate as they eased down the mist-enshrouded descent of the next climb, the Platzerweisen.

With steadily rising pain from multiple injuries, the Spaniard eased over to the side of the road, dismounted and then – in images echoing Froome’s abandon – clambered gingerly inside his director’s team car.

Video: Travelling in a Tour de France team car

On last Wednesday’s perilous stage over the cobbles, Contador had lost nearly three minutes to leader Nibali when mud jammed his gearing. But on Saturday’s first short, sharp ascent, he had been the strongest of the overall favourites, gaining time on Nibali. Yesterday, on a stage when he was expected to make further gains, the 31-year-old  was forced to quit, with an  X-ray later revealing a broken tibia. That he could continue in such circumstances after the crash for another 17km is a sign of his iron determination, but it was clearly impossible for him to ride on.

“It’s not a bad fracture but he needs surgery,” Tinkoff boss Bjarne Riis said later. “He’s in a lot of pain and is getting stitches. Mentally he’s destroyed, of course. He was in the shape of his life... This was his Tour. He was in super good condition, never better. It’s a big, big pity.”

Froome sent a message of support to his top rival via Twitter, saying: “Big loss for the TDF today. Recover well @albertocontador.”

He then added: “I hope to see you at the Vuelta”, in what appears to be confirmation that the Briton will be riding in cycling’s third Grand Tour in Spain this September.

Froome’s and Contador’s combined absence means there is no former winner in the race, but Italy’s Nibali, who won both the stage and returned to the lead, appears determined to ensure there will be no power vacuum.

Nibali shot away from a tiny front group of favourites some 2.5km from the line on the seventh and final climb of the day, the ultra-steep Planche des Belles Filles. Catching and quickly dropping earlier attacker Joaquim Rodriguez of Spain, the Italian crossed the line with a 15-second advantage over his closest pursuer, Thibaut Pinot of France. Overall Nibali’s increased advantage of 2 min, 23 sec is a very solid one, although with so much racing left, it is insufficient to say that the Tour is definitively in his grasp.

However, it was two years ago on the Planche des Belles Filles that Sir Dave Brailsford said Sky had begun to believe it was possible for Sir Bradley Wiggins – after taking the lead there – to win outright. And this time round it could well be the same for the 29-year-old Sicilian.

Sky’s Porte led the string of half a dozen counter-attackers and rode strongly to move into second, but the Australian said afterwards that the others had shadowed him too closely. “I felt good today but it’s not great to be towing everybody to the line, he said. “[But] if Vincenzo goes I guess you have to respond. It’s a shame to lose Alberto. I hope he’s OK. It’s definitely going to change the dynamics of the race.”