Philippe Gilbert has pulled out of the Tour de France after the former world champion broke his knee cap, leaving the Lotto Soudal team with six riders, down from eight after just one stage of the race.
The Belgian outfit said the 38-year-old would not be at the start of Sunday's second stage around Nice after 2012 world champion Gilbert hit the ground in Saturday's rain-hit opening, one of several riders to fall during the stage.
“I was riding around position 20 in the peloton when they crashed in front of me", Gilbert said. "I managed to escape that crash. I passed two, three fallen riders and thought to be safe, but then they crashed again, and this time I couldn’t avoid them anymore.
"We were lying there with 10-15 guys… Immediately I tried to get up, but that was impossible. I’ve waited there some two minutes, leaning against a guardrail. Then I left alone without being able to really push on the pedals. In a small group of dropped riders, I managed to finish, without being able to help the others. I was in pain. A pain I recognized from 2018...”
Teammate John Degenkolb was already out after the German finished outside the time limit on Saturday.
“What a disappointment for us," Gilbert said. “We are both riders who love their sport and job.
"We always have respect for the races, our team and sponsors. We always fight and share the same values. I have big respect for what John did, finishing after a nasty crash, 65 kilometres alone and arriving two minutes out of time limit.
"John gave everything, but got zero respect from the commissaires. With the rain and all crashes, at least he deserved the respect to put him in the result, even if, afterwards, he would have been unable to continue. So unacceptable.”
It has been a tough start to the Tour for Lotto Soudal, who already had to send home four staff members after two of them tested positive for coronavirus on Thursday.