BAGNERES-DE-BIGORRE, France — 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.
Rarely have they just vanished in the middle of a stage like Rohan Dennis did Thursday during the first Pyrenean stage.
For a couple of hours on an otherwise uneventful day in the mountains, nobody was able to say where the time-trial world champion had gone. His Bahrain-Merida team even sent out an alarming message on social networks, saying all it cared about was “the welfare” of Dennis after Tour organizers announced he had pulled out of the race.
The Australian ultimately resurfaced at the finish line in Bagneres-de-Bigorre, where British rider Simon Yates, the reigning Spanish Vuelta 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 to withdraw.
“We are also confused,” Bahrain-Merida 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.”
Photo: Jeff Pachoud / AFP / Getty Images
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Dennis quit with about 50 miles left before the two big climbs in Stage 12, 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.
Dennis’s withdrawal was even more surprising as it came a day before Friday’s short time trial in Pau, where he would have been an obvious favorite alongside defending Tour champion Geraint Thomas, given his pedigree in the race against the clock.
Dennis’ extraordinary 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 three worked well together until the final sprint shaped up 200 yards 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. To have a stage at all three Grand Tours makes me very proud.”
As the Tour hit high mountains with two first-category climbs, the main favorites closely watched each other and did not attack, saving strength for the super hard days still to come. The main pack of contenders crossed the finish line 9 minutes, 35 seconds behind the winner, with no major change in the overall standings. Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe kept the race leader’s yellow jersey ahead of Friday’s time trial in Pau, 1 minute, 12 seconds ahead of Thomas.
Thomas’ teammate, Egan Bernal, the Ineos co-leader, remained in third place, a further four seconds behind.
Samuel Petrequin is an Associated Press writer.
This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/sports/article/Rohan-Dennis-quits-Tour-de-France-in-bizarre-way-14107195.php.