Trek Factory Racing's Fabian Cancellara has pulled out of the Tour de France following stage 3 in Huy, Belgium. While wearing the yellow jersey, the Swiss rider was involved in a high-speed crash with 60km to the finish line, and although he finished the stage, his team later confirmed that he has two transverse process fractures in two vertebrae bones in his lower back.
"Cancellara was whisked off to the hospital for a CT scan shortly after he crossed the finish line of the crash-marred stage three at the Tour de France, and hours later the news confirmed the worst: two transverse process fractures in two vertebrae bones of the lower back," the statement read.
It is the identical injury he sustained in E3 Harelbeke last March, but this time the L3 and L4 vertebrae on the right side were the culprits, not the L2 and L3 on the left side he injured in Harelbeke.
“This is incredibly disappointing for me,” Cancellara said. “The team was on a high with the yellow jersey and were very motivated to defend it. We have had a lot of crashes and injuries since the start of the season, and we finally had a great 24 hours but now it’s back to bad luck."
The recovery time was lengthy last time around; in fact Cancellara had just rebounded to top form from the March crash that ended his Classics campaign.
“It was very hard to come back in shape after my crash in Harelbeke and getting the confidence,” Cancellara added. “The yellow jersey gave me a huge boost for the cobblestone stage tomorrow. I guess I have to keep the positive and look forward to the second part of the season.”
An abrupt end to his day in the yellow jersey
It was the 29th day that Cancellara has spent in the yellow jersey during his career and he hoped to hold on to it for a few more days. It came to an abrupt end, however, when he was involved in the high-speed crash 60km from the finish line.
Cancellara went over the handlebars and although he got back on his bike, he was visibly in pain for much of the stage. “My back doesn’t feel good, and for sure it’s a big disappointment. I expected to defend yellow today, not lying on the ground at 80km/h.
“One day you win, one day you lose. Like this, is for sure not nice,” Cancellara said in a press release from the Trek Factory Racing team.
Cancellara was one of a number of riders involved in the chaotic crash, which took out Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin), William Bonnet (FDJ.fr), Dmitrii Kozonchuk (Katusha) and Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge).
The Swiss rider described his experience during the accident, “It was on a slight downhill, and I saw the crash happening on the right side and I was hoping I could sneak between the riders in the field, but there was a drainage gutter and in the end I got hit from the back, and hit this drain thing and I don’t even know what happened after that.”
The team’s director sportif Luca Guercilena was quickly on site to support Cancellara. At first, Cancellara didn’t seem to be able to continue but in the end he got back on his bike and finished the race 11:43 behind the stage winner Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha).
“He was standing up. I told him to try to go to the end of the stage. Then we would go on to analyze it. He was quite ok to restart even though he has pain. That was a good sign but it’s always better to await the scan response because very often it doesn’t mean a lot that you can go on. To be able to be at the start after a crash like this is quite complicated. Hopefully nothing is broken. Crashing at 80km/h is nothing that allows you to go,” Guercilena said.
After the crash Cancellara, wearing the yellow jersey, was distanced from the front of the peloton, however, officials neutralised the race, and later stopped it althogether. This allowed riders, team directors, doctors and ambulances to catch back up with the peloton.
“Thank you to the race organization to neutralise it. When you see so many people on the ground… it was the right thing to do,” Cancellara said.
Guercilena was at first surprised to find out that the race was neutralised but he understood why when he realised how many riders were on the ground, and how many ambulances and doctors were helping out.
“I don’t think that they awaited Cancellara. The judge neutralised the race. They were waiting for everybody because there were 40 riders on the ground. It was very risky in case something more happened. There was no emergency or medical assistances right behind it. I think that in the end it was the right choice to make,” Guercilena said.
Meanwhile team leader Bauke Mollema survived the crashes and featured in front of the peloton at the Mur de Huy. He finished 10th, 11 seconds behind winner Rodriguez, and moved up to12th overall at 1:32 from new race leader Chris Froome (Team Sky).
“Bob Jungels delivered me perfectly in front at the foot. Straight from the foot it was full gas,” Mollema said while warming down on the rollers. “First somebody from Katusha and then Froome rode flat out. It’s a different field here in the Tour so I expected it. Those guys want to stay out of trouble and don’t necessarily want to win the stage. I was well positioned but unable to keep up with the first riders. I managed to bridge up with a group so I received their time. It was a good day but it’s too bad what happened with Cancellara.”