UPDATED: Alberto Contador has abandoned the Tour de France this afternoon - after riding 18 kilometres with what turns out to be a broken tibia in a desperate attempt to remain in the race. The Spaniard pulled out of today's Stage 10 with around 80 kilometres left to ride after a heavy crash earlier on as he descended in the wet.
In a statement issued this evening, his manager at Tinkoff-Saxo, Bjarne Riis, said: “Alberto crashed on a fast and straight part of the descent. He was reaching for his pocket and the bike was swept away under him probably because of a bump or hole in the road.
"Alberto was in the shape of his life and the entire team had our eyes fixed on the podium in Paris and the work we would have to do to get there.”
Some riders who saw Contador crash gave their own version of what had happened. According to a tweet from Danish journalist Mikkel Condé, Astana’s Jakob Fuglsang said: “Contador took a big risk. On a descent with bad asphalt, he passed us, went 10-15 km/h faster. 1k later he fell on his ass."
Meanwhile, the Dutch journalist and commentator José Been said on Twitter that Lotto-Belisol’s Jurgen Van den Broeck had told Sporza: "It was Contador's own fault. He stepped on the pedals to overtake and rode in a hole."
Following the crash, which happened with around 100 kilometres still to ride of the 161.5 kilometre stage from Mulhouse to La Planche des Belles Filles, the Tinkoff-Saxo rider waited as the race doctor strapped his right knee.
He also had tears to the left hip of his bibshorts as well as the rear of his jersey, and seemed to be in pain from a wrist injury.
Ironically, given the vast media presence at the Tour nobody was pointing a camera in Contador's direction when he crashed. Social media rushed to fill the void, rumours swept the Twitterverse that the frame of Contador's Speicalized had broken in the impact. Certainly a picture from AFP, tweeted by Telegraph Sport journalist John MacLeary shows a bike with the Spanish rider's frame number clearly snapped both on the downtube and where the top tube meets the seatpost.
New photo just dropped in from AFP of broken bike which is definitely Alberto Contador's - see mounted race No 31. pic.twitter.com/1xyy1ww0Ay
— John MacLeary (@JohnMacLeary) July 14, 2014
However, some claimed that the picture is of Contador's spare bike, said to have fallen from his team car's roof rack and then have been run over by another vehicle, Dutch website Nusport.NL was later reported to be quoting Belkin's team manager Meerijn Zeeman as saying that a Tinkokff Saxo bike did fall land on a Belkin team car after bikes became entangled following a close pass from a Tinkoff - Saxo car, he doesn't appear to mention any damage though.
To further add to the fog of rumour and counter-rumour, Danish television channel TV2 says Contador was actually riding a bike lent to him by Nicolas Roche following an earlier crash - and pictures of the bike beside the rider at the roadside as the doctor treated him suggest that one was undamaged.
The picture cleared only somewhat during the evening when Specialized released a statement wishing Contador a speedy recovery and pulling together all the strands of information available to them about the crash.
"All of us at Specialized are devastated to see Alberto Contador withdraw from the Tour. He is a true champion with the heart of a warrior and he had a great chance at Yellow this year. We have spoken to Alberto's brother as well as his personal mechanic (Faustino Muñoz) and the mechanic who was at the scene (Rune Kristensen), and contrary to some early, unconfirmed reports, frame failure was not involved in Alberto's incident today. Nicolas Roche was involved in a separate incident today and while his bike was laying on the road it was run over by a car causing it to break, potentially giving rise to the initial inaccurate reporting. Live race reporting is difficult and sometimes mistakes are made. We are continuing to research the events of today and will share any further details as we learn more."
However, the bike pictured in John MacLeary's tweet clearly bore Contador race number - 31, not Roche's and is certainly not Roche's first choice bike he's on the new McLaren Tarmac SL which has a distinctive paint job (see pic below) - and at $15,000 a pop isnt' the sort of bike you'd want to make a habit of running over
Yet another version of events was supplied to Cyclingtips.com - who were told that the bike pictured was indeed Contador's but was his spare (and yes, his mechanic was enough of a perfectionist to have a race number on both of Contador's bike). The spare had been inadvertently run over by the team car after the mechanic got it down for Contador, at which point point presumably Contador was given Roche's bike instead.
Following the crash Contador, clearly in pain, eventually remounted with a 5 minute deficit on the group he had been riding with including his chief rival for the overall victory, Astana's Vincenzo Nibali, who went on to win today's stage at La Planche des Belles Filles and is back in the race leader's yellow jersey.
“After the crash, Alberto got back on the bike and we tried for about 18 kilometres to keep him in the race," continued Riis. Despite his best efforts and an impressive show of willpower, he had to abandon the race.
The rider was taken to the finish in the team car and his leg was x-rayed, revealing the fracture, as Riis explained: “Alberto has broken his tibia just below the knee. It’s not a complicated fracture but it probably requires surgery. He will stay with us tonight and tomorrow he will travel back to Madrid to undergo further examinations and a surgery if necessary."
His absence from the race means that there are now no former winners left in this year's Tour de France after Andy Schleck and Chris Froome abandoned last week. The Team Sky rider was quick to tweet his commiserations to Contador.
Big loss for the TDF today. Recover well @albertocontador & I hope to see you at the Vuelta.
— Chris Froome (@chrisfroome) July 14, 2014
However, Riis made it clear that it's premature to talk about when Contador might return to racing. “We will naturally have to look ahead," he said. "But right now it’s to early to say anything about the possibility of Alberto riding Vuelta a Espana. It depends on his recovery and on how fast he can get back on the bike and start training again”,
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.