These are not good days to be a former Tour de France champion on the roads of France. Spain's Alberto Contador left the race after suffering a heavy crash in a wet and foggy portion of Monday's mountain stage, five days after defending champion Chris Froome abandoned the race.
Contador's crash was apparently caused when he hit something in the road; it was so violent that it tore his shoe apart. After getting his right knee bandaged, the two-time Tour champ attempted to rejoin the race, but he soon abandoned.
Contador, who won the race in 2007 and 2009 — and who had one victory voided by a doping scandal — gave up hope after realizing he couldn't power his bike on the mountains. He thanked the teammates who had helped him get going again, then pulled to the side of the road and walked to the team car.
The 10th-stage exit ends the hopes of the man many had expected to assert himself in the mountains, perhaps emerging with a clear shot at the podium in Paris.
In addition to Contador and Froome, the 2010 winner, Luxembourg's Andy Schleck, pulled out of the race after hurting his knee in a crash in the third stage. Two other recent champions, Australia's Cadel Evans and Britain's Bradley Wiggins, aren't riding in this year's race, leaving the field wide open to new contenders.
Before today, Contador had been expected to duel Italy's Vincenzo Nibali for the title. Now, the attention likely will turn to Richie Porte, Froome's teammate, along with Alejandro Valverde, Jakob Fuglsang and Michal Kwiatkowski, whose aggressive riding has moved him into the top five.
After Contador withdrew, the official LeTour site posted remarks by the sports director of his team, Philippe Mauduit:
"Alberto badly crashed. His right knee is seriously injured. The crash has been violent. I have his shoe with me, it's completely destroyed."
He added, "It's obviously too early to establish a diagnostic for Alberto. Once he'll reach the finish, he'll undergo an X-ray examination. Before pulling out, he told us that he was in an awful pain and he couldn't go any further on his bike. It's a pity because everything had gone well since the beginning of the Tour. We had a plan and today's race was unfolding exactly as we wanted. In a fraction of a second, it all fell apart, so we're immensely sad."
Tuesday brings a rest day for the teams riding in the Tour de France. It seems certain that their strategy sessions will be wildly different than they were when this race started.
Update: We've rewritten one paragraph of this post to clarify that Andy Schleck withdrew in the third stage.