YORK England (Reuters) - Mark Cavendish's Tour de France came to a brutal end after the British sprint specialist failed to recover from a horror crash at the end of the first stage and pulled out of the race on Sunday morning.
"It's devastating," Cavendish, who will have an MRI scan on a dislocated shoulder and torn (shoulder) ligaments, told reporters outside his Omega Pharma-Quick Step (OPQS) bus before the second stage, a tough 201-km ride to Sheffield.
Cavendish, aiming for a 26th Tour de France stage victory and the yellow jersey he has never won, dislocated his right shoulder in the finale of the opening stage from Leeds to Harrogate on Saturday, his mother's hometown.
The 29-year-old Cavendish had appeared too eager to succeed in the closing stages and, using his shoulders for extra leverage to prevent being squeezed for room, swayed towards Australian Simon Gerrans, bringing both of them down.
German Marcel Kittel narrowly avoided the carnage and sprinted clear of the pack to claim the overall leader's yellow jersey following his fifth stage win overall.
"Normally I bounce well when I crash but when I was on the floor yesterday I knew something was wrong, for the first time in my career I knew something was wrong.
"I wanted to cross the finish line as it was in Harrogate, I got back on the bike but couldn't hold the handlebars.
"When I took my skin suit off my shoulder was sticking out the way it shouldn't," Cavendish, who had won at least a stage in every Tour since 2008, said.
"I had held some optimism that it would just be swelling but this morning was worse. I'm gutted and majorly disappointed. I had really wanted to win yesterday for all the people watching."
Team doctor Helge Riepenhof said Cavendish's immediate reaction in the hours after the crash was that he wanted to be at the start on Sunday.
"His first thought was I want to race tomorrow and he wanted to know what we could do," he told reporters.
"With things like this Mark needs some time to be convinced that he has no chance to ride. I spent a bit of time with him last night talking and he made the decision that he can't race and which was quite lucky for me so that I wasn't the one who had to tell him."
OPQS team manager Patrick Lefevere described the team's start to the Tour as a "nightmare" and appeared to suggest that Gerrans had been slightly to blame for the crash.
"Gerrans came a little bit quicker but we was next to Mark. He was at the end of his sprint and tried to go in Mark's slipstream and he used his elbow to break down Mark.
"Mark used his body against him and the rest is what we saw," the Belgian said.
Cavendish, however, explained it had been a racing accident and said he had apologised to Gerrans.
"The two of us were on Peter Sagan's wheel. I wanted to go but Gerrans was there. I wasn't budging and Simon wasn't budging and we went down."
OPQS's Tour had been built around Cavendish and the team suffered more misfortune on the opening day when Italian sprinter Alessandro Petacchi suffered an allergic reaction to a bee sting.
"We could give him antihistamine but the problem is that makes you rather tired," Riepenhof said.
"Cortisone is the other option but you can't give that and we support that. Today will be tough but I think he'll get through it."
OPQS's strategy is now likely to focus on Poland's Michal Kwiatkowski, who can reasonably target a top 10 finish in Paris as well as vying for honours in the young rider classification.
"We go from defending to offence," Lefevere said.
"The other riders have a free role and that means we have to change our tactics."
The opening three stages of this year's race are being held in England.
(Editing by Julien Pretot/John O'Brien)