Team Sky's Edvald Boasson Hagen is out of the Tour de France after being involved in a big crash towards the end of today's Stage 12 in Tours, won by Argos Shimano's Marcel Kittel. Race leader Chris Froome, who narrowly avoided being caught up in the incident himself, says the episode underlines the need to be vigilant at all times during the three week race.
News that Boasson Hagen, winner of two stages in the 2011 edition of the race, will play no more part in Froome’s bid to succeed Sir Bradley Wiggins as champion was initially said to have been confirmed by Sky to Norwegian television.
Speaking to the British WorldTour outfit's website, Sky's team doctor Alan Farrell said: "After the crash Edvald was taken to a local medical centre for x-rays which revealed he had a fracture of his right scapula.
"Fortunately this doesn’t require surgery but Edvald will return home to Norway for further investigation and treatment and we look forward to seeing him racing again sometime over the summer."
Team Principal Sir Dave Brailsford commented: "It’s a real shame for Edvald and a setback for the team that he’s been forced to abandon the race.
"It’s never nice to lose a rider of Edvald’s ability, but ultimately we’re still confident that with the riders we’ve got left we can pull together and see the race through.
"The plan doesn't change and we will do everything we can to support Chris [Froome]."
With Vasil Kiryienka missing the time cut on Sunday’s stage, in which Peter Kennaugh also crashed - he is still suffering the effects of that, plus Geraint Thomas continuing to ride despite fracturing his pelvis on the opening day, it’s a depleted Sky squad that will seek to defend Froome’s lead on GC with some big mountain stages looming in the week and a half that remains.
Sky are well aware of how such an incident can wreck the most carefully laid plans – it was on an innocuous looking stage such as this one where Bradley Wiggins’ challenge in 2011 came to a premature end when he broke his collarbone in a chute.
Understandably, then, race leader Chris Froome was himself hugely relieved to have got through the chaos towards the end of today’s stage unscathed – he only just avoided getting caught up in the crash.
"It was alright today. I was happy on my team-mates' wheels throughout the stage. Some teams did look like they were about to take it up and it's a reminder that we just have to concentrate all the way through and keep an eye on proceedings. I could hear the crash behind me, but I didn't see anything," he said.
"I didn't see anyone go down but I heard it happen with about two kilometres to go and Edvald was caught up in that. I think he came in holding his shoulder and he's just with the team doctors at the moment checking out what the injuries are."
Froome emphasised the importance of keeping vigilant – at the point the crash happened, the latter was riding towards the front of the group to try and remain out of trouble, even as the sprinters’ teams were cranking things up for the finale.
"Any day in the Tour de France has its challenges," he acknowledged. "You've got to stay awake and keep an eye on things – at any moment things can change and the race can be taken away from you."
Froome, who won the first summit finish of this year’s race at Ax 3 Domaines on Saturday and was the only rider to get close to the time of world time trial champion Tony Martin of Omega Pharma-Quick Step at Mont-Saint-Michel yesterday, retains a lead of 3 minutes 25 seconds over Alejandro Valverde.
The Spaniard's Movistar team put all of Sky's riders bar Froome in difficulty on Sunday's Pyrenean stage to Bagneres de Bigorre, with Nairo Quintana launching a series of attacks, and will be likely to use similar tactics to try and isolate the race leader again on some of the potentially decisive stages ahead, including a climb of Mont Ventoux and a double ascent of Alpe d'Huez.
Alberto Contador is said by his Saxo Tinkoff team to have specifically trained to peak in the third week of the race; he currently lies fourth overall, but certainly cannot be discounted and it's likely the Danish outfit will have some surprises planned for Froome in some of those stages.
Froome still retains a lead the extent of which more than confirms his status as race favourite, but reflected: "It was a big effort yesterday and naturally I felt it in the legs a little bit today but hopefully no more than the other guys in the peloton," adding, "I'm looking forward to the Alps and getting closer to Paris"
The words, “in one piece” went unspoken, but must be close to the front of his thoughts.
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.