No start for Boonen

Points leader Tom Boonen (Quick Step) was forced to withdraw from the Tour de France before today's start due to a knee injury sustained on yesterday's 11th stage to Briançon. The 24 year-old fell on the descent after the start in Courchevel, hitting the deck for the third time in five days.

Boonen limped in to finish as part of the autobus, 39 minutes and 46 seconds after stage winner Alexandre Vinokourov.

"I don't know how I got to Briançon with the bike," he told "I rate this performance higher than both of my wins in the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix. After eleven kilometres, I crashed full on my face during the descent from Courchevel. Hushovd tried to ride away, I sat five metres behind and wanted to take the corner on the left, but the Spanish champion Garate went through the middle and bumped me. I couldn't stand up for the first two minutes. It was as if there was something broken behind my right knee. I couldn't stay in the saddle because of the pain."

This morning, Boonen tried to ride on the rollers, but realised that it wasn't going to happen and opted not to start.

Quick.Step also lost Stefano Zanini (abandon) and Kevin Hulsmans, who finished two and a half minutes outside the time limit, while Servais Knaven (diarrhoea) and Bram Tankink (general fatigue) have been under pressure.

Boonen had been favourite to take the green jersey to Paris due to the strong sprinting form displayed when winning stages two and three, in Essarts and Tours respectively. However, his speed had been blunted somewhat by falls, with Credit Agricole rider Thor Hushovd closing the gap to just five points.

The Belgian's withdrawal means that Hushovd takes over at the helm of the classification this morning. He is 19 points clear of Stuart O'Grady (Cofidis), with double green jersey winner Robbie McEwen (Davitamon-Lotto) 32 points adrift.

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