Two-time champion Alberto Contador dropped out of the Tour de France on Monday after crashing in a high-speed mountain descent during Stage 10 — the second big withdrawal that blows the race wide open and ensures that cycling's greatest event will have a new champion this year.
The departure of the 31-year-old Spaniard with Tinkoff-Saxo Bank follows that of defending champion Chris Froome of Britain who crashed out in Stage 5. Before the race began this year, Froome and Contador were seen as the two favorites. In Stage 1, British sprinting star Mark Cavendish crashed out, too.
According to his spokesman, Contador said he wasn't exactly sure what caused the crash — which happened while he was speeding downhill at 0 mph. The descent came about halfway through the 100-mile trek from Mulhouse to La Planche des Belles Filles in the eastern Vosges mountains.
"He explained to me just a few minutes ago that he (hit) a stone, or a hole in the road, or something — and he crashed," spokesman Jacinto Vidarte told the Associated Press by phone during the stage. "He couldn't do anything about it."
TV images showed thick streams of blood pouring from Contador's right knee after the crash, his hip was scraped up, and the back of his jersey torn. Team director Bjarne Riis rushed over and bandaged the knee. Team spokesman Victor Petri said that Contador would undergo X-rays to determine the extent of the damage.
Contador then sat back down on the grass bank and changed his left shoe as riders weaved through the narrow gap between him and his bicycle. After several minutes, he got back in the saddle of a new bike, and three teammates who had dropped back escorted him to try to make up lost time as the peloton pulled away up the Col du Platzerwaswel mountain pass.
The Spaniard rode for about another half-hour, clearly in pain, and finally stopped, got off, wiped his eyes and climbed into a team car.
Contador began the stage in ninth place overall — 4 minutes, 8 seconds back of race leader Tony Gallopin of France. The Spaniard's withdrawal vaults Vincenzo Nibali atop the list of likely winners this year. The Italian has won the Spanish Vuelta and Italian Giro, and wore the Tour leader's yellow jersey for seven days until Gallopin took it on Sunday.
Contador and Froome, along with 2010 Tour champion Andy Schleck, were the only three former Tour champions racing this year. Schleck dropped out before Stage 4 after sustaining an injury in yet another crash a day earlier.
The 10 stage features four steep Category 1 climbs, and is the toughest stage so far this year. The last section of the final ascent up to Belles Filles featured a punishing 20 per cent gradient which, as expected, was shaking up the pack and giving a clearer indication of contenders for overall victory of the three-week race on the Champs-Elysees in Paris on July 27.