ARENBERG, France – An injured wrist was just too much for Tour de France champion Chris Froome, in one of the most memorable and crash-marred stages in recent race history.
The Kenyan-born Briton ended his repeat bid Wednesday, dropping out of cycling’s big event and dropping a bombshell on his competitors after crashing twice in a rain-, mud-, sweat- and blood-soaked fifth stage for the pack through nerve-wracking cobblestones along France’s border with Belgium.
The 29-year-old Team Sky leader, already nursing pain in his left wrist a day earlier, first scuffed up his right hip, tearing his uniform, then scraped his face. Both falls happened even before he got to the start of 8 miles over joint-jangling cobblestones.
He was the best-known of several big-name riders who crashed on Wednesday. They found out months ago, when the course was announced, what they would face on the roads from Ypres, Belgium to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut. It’s the same big bumps known to racers of the celebrated Paris-Roubaix one-day race.
What they couldn’t foresee was the rain, which slickened roads and unsettled many rider nerves – and psychology was crucial to surviving the stage. Before Froome crashed, Sky sporting director Nicolas Portal said it best: “His wrist hurts a bit, but it’ll be a question of mental as well today,” according to the Tour’s Web site.
Before the stage, Froome had said that the biggest concern about the cobblestones was not riding over them, but the nervousness of the peloton as riders jockey to get up front, which is considered the safest place to be.
Sensing the danger from the rain, race organizers scrapped two of the nine scheduled cobblestone patches, and reduced the stage by three kilometers (two miles). But that still wasn’t enough to stop many riders from tumbling.
“It’s devastating for Chris and for the team,” Sky boss Dave Brailsford said. “We really believed in Chris and his ability to win this race. But it’s not to be this year.”
The last time a defending champion abandoned the Tour was five-time winner Bernard Hinault of France in 1980, according to French cycling statistics provider Velobs.com.