TIGNES, France (Reuters) - Thibaut Pinot's Tour de France challenge came to an abrupt and heartbreaking halt on Friday when the home favourite abandoned the race with a thigh injury during the 19th stage.
His Groupama-FDJ team explained that the 29-year-old, who was fifth overall and still had a genuine shot at the title, sustained the injury when he collided with another rider's handlebars while trying to avoid a pileup on Wednesday.
"We had some hope after seeing him keep up with the best yesterday but the pain was too strong today," said the team's sports director Philippe Mauduit.
"It's extremely tough, he had done everything to be a contender in this Tour."
A team statement said that Pinot, who has won stages on all three grand tours and won the Giro Di Lombardia, a 'Monument' classic, last year, had sustained a 'muscular injury'.
"He had trouble walking last night after finishing the 18th stage with a sharp pain," the statement read.
Pinot climbed into his team car with 87 kilometres to go in the 126.5km mountain trek from St Jean de Maurienne.
He was fifth overall, 1:50 behind race leader Julian Alaphilippe of France, after riding impressively in the Pyrenees last week.
Pinot had his left thigh strapped by the race doctor but could not pedal properly and threw in the towel after being comforted by his team mate William Bonnet.
The 29-year-old, who was third in the 2014 Tour, was also forced to abandon the Giro d'Italia last year after cracking on the 20th stage while third overall due to a bout of pneumonia.
A stage winner in 2012, as the youngest rider in the Tour, Pinot snatched another stage win at L'Alpe d'Huez in 2015 after he had dropped out of overall contention.
He abandoned in 2016 and 2017 and did not take part in 2018. Yet he emerged as one of the top contenders this year after riding flawlessly in the opening nine days.
He lost 1:40 because of a positioning error in crosswinds but made up for the lost time with impressive attacks in the Pyrenees, winning at top of the iconic Col du Tourmalet last Saturday.
(Editing by Toby Davis)
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