In 116 years of racing at the Tour de France, riders have done all sorts of bizarre things, from jumping on trains to fighting with fans at mountain stops, but rarely have they vanished in the middle of a stage like Rohan Dennis did on Thursday in the first Pyrenean stage.
For a couple of hours on an otherwise uneventful Stage 12 in the mountains, nobody was able to say where the time trial world champion had gone.
His Bahrain-Merida team even sent an alarming message out on social media, saying all it cared about was “the welfare” of Dennis after Tour organizers announced he had pulled out of the race.
The Australian resurfaced at the finish line in Bagneres-de-Bigorre, where British rider Simon Yates, the reigning Vuelta a Espana champion, posted his first stage win after a long breakaway that did not shuffle the overall standings.
Dennis was spotted near the Bahrain-Merida team bus after the stage, but did not make any comment about his decision.
“We are also confused,” team director Gorazd Stangelj said. “It was his decision today to stop at the feed zone. We tried to speak with him, he said: ‘I just don’t want to talk’ and abandoned the race.”
Dennis quit with about 80km left before the two big climbs, prompting Bahrain-Merida to open an investigation. According to the French TV station broadcasting the race, Dennis had an argument with officials in the team car.
Stangelj said that Dennis’ condition was good enough to perform, adding that he was not aware of any kind of argument that could have triggered the rider’s decision.
Dennis’ withdrawal was even more surprising as it came a day before yesterday’s short time trial in Pau, where he would have been an obvious favorite alongside defending champion Geraint Thomas.
Stangelj said he was not aware of any complaint from Denis about his time trial equipment and also dismissed suppositions that Dennis could have been frustrated with his role in the team.
“I never asked him to bring the water bottles in the race,” Stangelj said. “Actually, I even told him yesterday and today that he should save energy for the time trial.”
Stangelj said that after Dennis stopped at the feed zone, he was not immediately able to reach out to him, as he had already passed that point on the route and could not turn back with his car.
He finally managed to get his rider on the telephone after another team car arrived next to him.
Dennis’ withdrawal was the talk of the day, but did not eclipse Yates’ maiden win at the Tour.
The British rider launched a counterattack behind a group of fugitives in a technical downhill and was joined at the front by Gregor Muhlberger and Pello Bilbao.
The trio worked well together until the final sprint shaped up 200m from the finish line in Bagneres-de-Bigorre. Yates launched the sprint, was first into the last turn and held off Bilbao for the victory.
“I wasn’t very confident in beating them,” Yates said. “I didn’t know how fast these two riders were, but my sport director told me to take the last corner in first position and I’m glad it worked out well.”
As the Tour hit high mountains, the main favorites closely watched each other and did not attack, saving strength.
The main pack of contenders crossed the finish line 9 minutes, 35 seconds behind the winner.
Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe kept the yellow jersey ahead of yesterday’s time trial in Pau, 1 minute, 12 seconds ahead of Thomas.
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