GRENOBLE, France (Reuters) - Defending champion Egan Bernal has withdrawn from the Tour de France ahead of stage 17 after dropping out of contention at the weekend, his Ineos Grenadiers team said on Wednesday.
Bernal's hopes of winning the race fell away when he cracked in the 15th stage and he was dropped from the main bunch in the ascent to Saint-Nizier suffering from back pains in Tuesday's 16th stage.
Bernal had said compensating for his back led to some discomfort in his knee.
"This is obviously not how I wanted my Tour de France to end, but I agree that it is the right decision for me in the circumstances," Bernal said in a statement https://www.ineosgrenadiers.com/article/egan-bernal-withdraws-from-the-tour-de-france just a day after saying he wanted to ride to Paris.
"I have the greatest respect for this race and I am already looking forward to coming back in the years ahead."
Wednesday's 17th stage is arguably the toughest of this year's Tour, ending 2,304 metres above sea level at top of the Col de la Loze, a punishing 21.5km ascent at an average gradient of 7.8%.
Bernal had looked out of sorts since the beginning of the Tour, which is being led by Primoz Roglic ahead of fellow Slovenian Tadej Pogacar.
The 23-year-old Bernal would focus on his recovery from the Tour and reset his goals for the rest of the season, his team said. They did not specify the reason for his withdrawal.
"We've taken this decision with Egan's best interests at heart," Ineos team principal Dave Brailsford said.
"Egan is a true champion who loves to race, but he is also a young rider, with many Tours ahead of him and at this point, on balance, we feel it is wiser for him to stop racing."
The Colombian had pulled out of the Criterium du Dauphine with back pains last month.
Last year, Bernal became the youngest rider to win the Tour de France in 110 years.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot, writing by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford)
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