Defending champion Egan Bernal withdraws from Tour de France

Defending Tour de France champion Egan Bernal has pulled out of the race ahead of a mammoth stage in the Alps

GRENOBLE, France — Defending Tour de France champion Egan Bernal has pulled out of the race ahead of a mammoth stage in the Alps, his Ineos Grenadiers team said Wednesday.

Bernal had been struggling since last weekend’s stage in the Jura mountains, where he dropped more than seven minutes on the main contenders and slipped out of contention. Hampered by back pain, the 23-year-old rider lost more time during Tuesday’s first Alpine stage.

Bernal was in 16th place overall, 19 minutes and fours seconds behind race leader Primoz Roglic.

“This is obviously not how I wanted my Tour de France to end, but I agree that it is the right decision for me in the circumstances,” Bernal said. “I have the greatest respect for this race and I’m already looking forward to coming back in the years ahead.”

Wednesday’s Stage 17, arguably the toughest, features the Col de La Madeleine and the Col de La Loze, the Tour’s highest point this year at 2,304 meters. The traffic-free pass between the ski resorts of Meribel and Courchevel was opened to cyclists this year after a forest track was paved by local authorities. The last six kilometers of the climb are particularly difficult, with very steep sections and sharp turns.

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