THE battle for the Tour de France took another dramatic turn yesterday when the second of the two pre-race favourites, Alberto Contador, fell and was forced to quit.
The Spaniard, who was said afterwards to be "mentally destroyed" at having to abandon the race, joins Britain's Chris Froome on the casualty list and leaves Vincenzo Nibali in pole position for the title, ahead of Australia's Richie Porte.
The Italian reclaimed the overall lead yesterday with a superb solo triumph forged with an attack 2.5km from the line at the end of stage 10, while Sky leader Porte rode strongly to move back up from fifth place to second overall, 2mins 23secs behind after finishing the stage in seventh place.
The 29-year-old Tasmanian led a string of half a dozen counter-attackers, but said afterwards that the others had shadowed him too closely.
"I felt good today but it's not great to be towing everybody to the line, he said. "(But) if Vincenzo goes I guess you have to respond. He's got enough time already so I didn't really want him to get any more.
"It's a shame to lose Alberto. I hope he's OK. It's definitely going to change the dynamics of the race."
The combined absence of Froome and Contador means there is no former winner in the race which took a rest day overnight.
An x-ray later revealed Contador had suffered a broken tibia when he fell 65km into the 161km stage. That he could continue in such circumstances after the crash for another 17km is a sign of his iron determination.
"It's not a bad fracture but he needs surgery," Tinkoff boss Bjarne Riis said later. "He's in a lot of pain and is getting stitches. Mentally he's destroyed, of course. He was in the shape of his life... This was his Tour. He was in super good condition, never better. It's a big, big pity."
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