Philippe Gilbert was forced to withdraw from the 2018 Tour de France on Tuesday after a grisly crash on Stage 16 left him with a fractured kneecap.
The Quick-Step rider was 57.2 K from the finish and in the lead when he lost control on a downhill bend and flew headfirst over a wall and into a ravine. Although he was helped back onto his bike to finish the 218K stage-eventually won by French teammate Julian Alaphilippe-Gilbert emerged from the X-ray truck suffering from the crash.
His team said doctors discovered the fracture after further tests at a hospital in Toulouse, meaning Gilbert had to pull out of the race.
“I want to say that I’m happy to be here after that tough moment,” he said. “This isn’t how I wanted to finish my Tour, and leaving it like this really hurts.”
Quick-Step bosses panicked when Gilbert went over the wall, as it was on the same descent, albeit several kilometers below, that Italian Fabio Casartelli died in a horrible crash in 1995.
Negotiating a left-hand bend at a high speed, Gilbert failed to brake in time, skidded, hit the wall, and was thrown from his bike onto rocks several meters below the road. TV footage showed officials helping him climb back out and onto the road, where he jumped gingerly back on his bike despite his bloody injuries.
“We played it well,” Gilbert said. “I attacked to put a little bit of pressure on our group. I wanted to help Julian. Tactically, we did well, but I crashed and it was all my fault. I simply took the wrong line.
“I fell onto rocks and, when I landed, I thought I’d been broken apart,” he added. “I’ve had a lucky escape.”
The Tour ends Sunday in Paris.