Rohan Dennis (Bahrain-Merida) has abandoned the Tour de France, climbing off the bike 80 kilometres from the end of stage 12 to Bagnères-de-Bigorre. Bahrain-Merida indicated in a post on Twitter that the team staff were unaware of the reasons why Dennis pulled out of the race, but they have launched an investigation.
"Our priority is the welfare of all our riders so will launch an immediate investigation but will not be commenting further until we have established what has happened to @RohanDennis. Meantime we continue to support our riders who are mid-race," the team wrote on their official Twitter account.
The Australian had been in the battle for the breakaway earlier in the stage, giving no hints that he would pull out of the race hours later. Dennis had been in top form in the run-up to July, finishing second at the Tour de Suisse, but has had a quiet first half of the Tour.
Dennis' abandon comes just one day before the 27km individual time trial in Pau, a stage he would have been among the favourites to win as the reigning time trial world champion.
The Independent reported that "according to French TV, Dennis was seen arguing with his team car before climbing off his bike", indicating that there may have been a disagreement between Dennis and the Bahrain-Merida management.
After reaching the finish in Bagneres-de-Bigorre by car, Dennis emerged from the team bus flanked by his agent, Andrew McQuaid, and surrounded by the press. Neither Dennis nor McQuaid provided a comment regarding Dennis' reason for abandoning the Tour de France as they walked away.
No official reasons have yet been given for Dennis' abandonment, with even the Bahrain-Merida management saying they were surprised by Dennis' sudden decision to quit in the middle of the stage. Senior directeur sportif Gorazd Stangelj admitted to a scrum of media at the team bus that he was confused and disappointed.
"We are also confused. Let’s say I am disappointed with what happened with Rohan today because we expected a big effort from him tomorrow," Stangelj said. "It was his decision to stop at the feed zone. We tried to speak with him. We stop with the car and try to find a solution—what is going on—he said, 'I don’t want to talk,' and he abandoned the race."
Stangelj said Dennis' decision to climb off his bike had nothing to do with the rider's physical condition. Stangelj avoided answers about alleged problems with equipment such as bikes and skinsuits.
"For sure it has nothing to do with his physical condition," Stangelj said.
Stangelj revealed that the Bahrain-Merida race team car drove past the feed zone and saw Dennis' bike leaned up against the soigneur's team car. Stangelj wasn't able to go against the direction of the race and drive back to the feed zone. Instead, he called the soigneur on the phone and asked to speak with Dennis.
“He answered and said, 'I don’t want to talk right now'," Stangelj said.
Late Thursday evening, Bahrain-Merida released a statement attributed to Dennis.
"I am very disappointed to leave the race at this point," read the the statement, which was also posted on the team's official Twitter account. "Obviously the individual time trial tomorrow had been a big goal for me and the team, but given my current feeling it was the right decision to withdraw earlier today.
"I wish my teammates the very best for the remainder of the race and would like to thank all the Tour de France fans who cheered for me, at home and on the roadside, since Brussels. I will hopefully be back competing in this great race again over the coming seasons."