Tour Turned Upside Down After Contador Crashes Out

Lionel Bonaventure, Getty Images

The battle to win the Tour de France was turned upside down as the rider most likely to challenge Vincenzo Nibali crashed 95 kilometers into today's stage and was forced to withdraw shortly afterwards with a broken tibia.

The storylines that emerged even halfway through today's stage were numerous and important. French rider Tony Gallopin was riding in the yellow jersey on Bastille day, enthralling the race's host nation. Joaquím Rodríguez infiltrated the breakaway du jour and launched a raid on mountain points on the Tour's most serious mountain stage yet and Michal Kwiatkowski joined him in an attempt to claw back time on the general classification. Later, Vincenzo Nibali would win the stage and cement his authority as leader of the general classification with an attack several kilometers away from the first summit finish atop La Planche des Belles Filles. But all these paled to a development midway through the stage as Alberto Contador lost control on the descent of the Col du Platzerwasel and suffered an injury severe enough to force him to withdraw from the race.

Along with Chris Froome, Contador was one of the two strongest favorites to win the general classification by the time le Tour hits Paris in just under two weeks. After Froome withdrew with severe hand and wrist injuries in the fifth stage of the race, Contador was the presumptive favorite, especially after his finest spring and early summer season in years. Even though Contador suffered more than most GC riders and lost two and a half minutes on the rain drenched cobbles of Stage five, he posed the most serious threat to Vincenzo Nibali's lead. Two days ago on the short uphill finish of Stage 8, Contador reinforced this by taking three seconds out of Nibali and more out of every other podium contender. Now, Nibali sits at the head of the Tour seemingly on a different level than his competition and with a healthy two plus minute gap to his nearest competitor Richie Porte of Team Sky. Without Contador in the race, it is Nibali's to lose and the remaining eleven stages could be a procession if no other riders make marked improvements in form and Nibali suffers no bad luck.

Contador's crash happened near the bottom of the third descent on a mammoth stage through the mountains as the race marched towards its first true summit finish. According to Jurgen Van den Broeck and Jakob Fuglsang, Contador was taking many more risks on the descent than others in the group of GC contenders. The pavement on the descent was rough and it appears Contador hit a hole that hurled him towards the grassy knoll on the right side of the road. Some four minutes passed by as he got medical attention and a new bike, but he finally began to ride again and shortly afterwards linked up with several teammates who dropped back to pace him back up to the group containing his rivals.

Ahead, the group of GC contenders was led by Astana, who seemed to ride with restraint at first to let Contador catch back on. However, with Michal Kwiatkowski - sitting in 6th overall after finishing 11th last year - three minutes up the road, Astana had little choice but begin riding again, if not in full pursuit. The gap to Contador and his Saxo-TInkoff teammates began to climb towards five minutes and shortly afterwards Contador patted teammate Michael Rogers on the back, said a few words of thanks, and tearfully rolled to a stop and got into his team car. He was later diagnosed with a minor fracture of his right tibia that will be repaired with surgery in the upcoming days.

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