The Astana team lost a valuable rider when American Levi Leipheimer had to abandon the Tour de France on Friday morning. A broken scaphoid bone in his wrist meant the Californian would spend his day having surgery rather than contesting the mountainous journey to Colmar.
Doctors in the Hôpital Jeanne d'Arc in Dommartin-lès-Toul fitted a 22mm titanium Herbert Screw in the bone before sending Leipheimer on his way. He will return to the United States while his team finishes out the race, weakened by the loss of Leipheimer, who had been placed fourth overall before a crash on Thursday's stage ended his race.
Lance Armstrong rued the loss of his teammate on Friday morning. "It is a serious blow to our team. We had a nice four-headed approach, now 25% of that is gone," said Armstrong. "Not only does it hurt us, but it helps the others in terms of morale, they will think the team has been weakened. It's unfortunate, but it's part of bike racing."
Leipheimer crashed in the final moments of the 211.5-kilometre stage from Tonnerre to Vittel. It left him with multiple bruises and road rash on his back and hip, and a fractured bone in his wrist.
"I am very disappointed, my wrist hurts a lot," said Leipheimer. "The disappointment does not compare to the pain of the Tour leaving me behind and my not being able to ride with my teammates."
"We've had a big battle so far and we're the favorites and I wanted to be part of that. For sure I wasn't the biggest favorite, but it was a tactic that we could play. If I went up the road, the others would have had to chase. A day like today would maybe have offered possibilities for me."
Astana will face one of its toughest tests on Sunday during the stage to Verbier. The stage ends with an 8.8-kilometre climb that could see Rinaldo Nocentini lose his overall lead. Astana is poised to take over the maillot jaune with Alberto Contador is second overall at six seconds and Armstrong is third at eight seconds.
The team will rely on German Andreas Klöden, fifth at 54 seconds, for support. "For us it changes a lot," said Astana manager Johan Bruyneel. "[Leipheimer] was one of the guys who could potentially win the Tour. Strategically it will make a difference."
As for the rest of his season, Leipheimer was uncertain what it would hold.
"The recovery can take a while," he said. "I'm afraid I won't be able to do big races any more this year, maybe only some US events."