Defending champion Egan Bernal has withdrawn from the Tour de France ahead of stage 17.
After struggling with back pain in addition to a knee complaint, Bernal has abandoned after conceding more time to overall leader Primoz Roglic.
Ineos Grenadiers chief Sir Dave Brailsford is adamant his star rider is best served saving himself for future races.
Brailsford said: “We have taken this decision with Egan’s best interests at heart.
“Egan is a true champion who loves to race, but he is also a young rider, with many Tours ahead of him and at this point, on balance, we feel it is wiser for him to stop racing.”
The Colombian meanwhile admitted his disappointment, but insisted he was determined to return to the sport’s iconic race in years to come.
“This is obviously not how I wanted my Tour de France to end, but I agree that it is the right decision for me in the circumstances,” said a dispirited Bernal.
“I have the greatest respect for this race and I am already looking forward to coming back in the years ahead.”
Bernal admitted he “felt empty” after conceding more than seven minutes to Roglic in Sunday’s Grand Colombier climb, to all but rule himself out of contention.
And after seemingly hiding his injury until stage 15, Bernal coughed up another 10 minutes in a gruelling stage 16 to Villard-de-Lans following a rest day.
“Today I was suffering all day, with back pain and it was increasing,” Bernal said. “In the last climb it switched to my knee. I’m screwed up on all sides.
“If I continue like this, it will be difficult to fight for the stage in the Col de la Loze, which is a very hard climb, with a lot of steep gradients.”
Roglic has a 40-second lead over Tadej Pogacar heading into the final week of the race.
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