Fabian Cancellara (Trek-Segafredo) has bid an early adieu at his final Tour de France following stage 17 in order to focus on the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. According to a team press release, it was a tough decision to leave the Tour early but one that was made jointly between Cancellara and team management.
"This was not an easy decision to take, but I feel it is the right one. I don’t like withdrawing from a race, especially not when our GC leader is in second place at four days from Paris," Cancellara said. "With some really hard stages ahead of us my support would naturally be more limited so we took the decision together to withdraw. It was a hard Tour for me: a lot of stress and I feel tired. If I want to be good at the Olympics I need rest."
Trek-Segafredo's Bauke Mollema is currently sitting in second overall 2:27 behind yellow jersey Chris Froome (Team Sky). The Tour entered the first day in the Alps on Wednesday with a challenging 184.5km stage from Berne to the summit finish at Finhaut-Emosson.
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Mollema showed signs of struggle on the steep slopes of the climb and finished the day 18th, among a select group of GC contenders that finished behind the day's breakaway, but he lost 40 seconds to Froome. There are still three more stages in the Alps that finish at Megève, Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc and Morzine, before the celebration stage to Paris on Sunday. Team management agreed that Cancellara's focus would be better spent on recovering in time for the time trial in Rio.
"Fabian has ridden a tremendous Tour de France," reiterated the team's General Manager Luca Guercilena. "He was our designated road captain and in this capacity led the team through 17 stages in a very composed way. Bauke Mollema is currently in second place overall - in part through strong teamwork by the whole team.
"This is why we decided to allow him to rest up and prepare for the Olympic Games. We all know he is eyeing the time trial and a rider like Fabian needs sufficient recovery. The heat of the last days has taken a toll on a 'bigger' guy like him, and his fatigue level is high. He will go home now and take it easy for a few days before starting some specific training for Rio."
Cancellara announced that he would retire from professional bike racing at the end of the 2016 season almost two years ago. He has competed in 11 Tours de France and has worn the yellow jersey for a total 29 days. It was only fitting that the race finish in his hometown of Berne on stage 16, where he finished sixth and was greeted with cheers and fandom along the city streets. And following the second rest day, Wednesday's stage 17 started in Berne.
"The Tour has given me a lot in the last twelve years and I don’t say this lightly," Cancellara said. "I gave a lot of thought to this decision to withdraw from the race. Today was very emotional for me - more than I expected it to be, and more than when I finished the Classics in the Roubaix velodrome: the stage to Bern, the start there this morning and the gift they presented me; everything.
"Right now knowing that these were my last kilometers in the Tour de France is hard. I want to thank the organizers for all those years, and for the trophy of my final Tour stage. I will treasure that forever. I’m drawing a line under a big story of my life.
"I wish the team, and Bauke in particular, a fantastic last four stages. I will be following the action from home."
To look back on Cancellara's history at the Tour de France, read our feature entitled 10 years of Fabian Cancellara's storied Tour de France career.