Chris Froome, defending champion in the Tour de France, has abandoned the race. The Team Sky rider crashed heavily yesterday, sustaining injuries including one to his left wrist, and fell twice more today on rain-soaked roads in northern France on today's Stage 5 from Ypres to Arenberg-Porte de Hainaut.
After his second fall, which came as the peloton sped towards the first of seven cobbled sections on today's route, Froome looked in severe pain and was clearly in no position to get back on his bike, instead climbing into the team car, the defence of his title over.
It’s more than a decade since it last rained here on the day of the Queen of the Classics, held in April each year. The forecast for today, however, had been for heavy rain and that’s how it turned out, with organsisers deciding to cut two of the planned nine sectors of pave – neither of them among the more difficult, admittedly – ahead of the start this morning.
Froome’s defence of his title came to an end shortly before the Carrefour de l’Arbre, the first of the remaining seven sections. The 29-year-old had possibly fractured his left wrist yesterday – x-rays taken last evening proved inconclusive – and took to the start this morning with splints on both wrists and handlebars heavily strapped to try and soften the impact of the cobbles.
He never made it that far. Crashing early on as a result of rain-soaked roads, ripping the right-hand side of his bibshorts and losing his race number, 1, denoting his status as defending champion, he came down heavily again with around 60km of the 152.5km stage which crossed some of the key battlefields of World War I.
Following that conflict, when a journalist from l’Auto, the newspaper that organised Paris-Roubaix at the time, headed north from Paris in 1919 to see whether the race could be held again on the battle-ravaged landscape, he described it in one word – “l’Enfer” – thereby giving the race its other nickname, “l’Enfer du Nord” or “the Hell of the North.”
While today’s route had just seven cobbled sections compared to the 27 that feature in the Spring Classic, seldom in recent years has the one-day race lived up to that nickname as much as this afternoon in the Tour de France is turning out to be.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.