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Injured Bardet bows out of awkward Froome matchup at Ruta del Sol

There won’t be a potentially explosive matchup between Romain Bardet and Chris Froome at the Ruta del Sol later this month.

Bardet has been an outspoken critic of Froome’s insistence on racing during the Sky captain’s ongoing Salbutamol case. Just moments after Sky confirmed Monday that Froome will make his season debut at the Spanish race next week, Ag2r-La Mondiale announced Bardet will be sidelined for at least two weeks for what was described as an “embarrassing” incident at his home in Vence, France.

Team officials did not reveal exactly what happened, but team doctor Eric Bouvat said, “[Bardet] suffered a cut, and a small muscle injury on his left forearm that requires stitches. He must wear a splint for two weeks.”

That means the outspoken Bardet, who’s taken some public shots at Froome over the past few months, won’t be racing as expected at the five-day Spanish race starting February 14.

Bardet tweeted a photo of his hand and arm wrapped up Monday morning:

In an interview with L’Equipe in January, Bardet said Froome’s case is bad news for cycling.

“I am astounded that, without this being leaked to the press, it might have been years before we found out about this test,” Bardet said. “I don’t see how Froome can carry on as though nothing has happened.”

Bardet is among several high-profile riders who have chimed in on the Froome case, and asked whether it would be better for cycling if Froome did not race. Others raising concerns include Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida).

After weeks of speculation of where and when Froome might race, Team Sky confirmed Monday that the four-time Tour de France winner will make his 2018 season debut at the Ruta del Sol, a five-stage race running from February 14-18 across southern Spain.

Since Froome has not been provisionally suspended in the wake of testing for high levels of Salbutamol during his 2017 Vuelta a España victory, Froome has been training vigorously in South Africa as his legal team works behind the scenes on his case.

Team Sky has resisted public pressure for Froome to wait on the sidelines until his Salbutamol issue plays out.

“Obviously I understand that this situation has created a lot of uncertainty. I completely get why there has been so much interest and speculation,” Froome said in a release Monday. “I hope that people will appreciate there are limits to what I can say whilst the process is still ongoing but no one is keener than me to move things forward as quickly as possible.”

Other big names expected to start the Ruta del Sol include Mikel Landa (Movistar), Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo), and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana).

For Bardet, the incident will be a minor setback in his Tour de France preparation. Last month, he previewed the cobblestone sectors to be featured in stage 9 at the Tour. He made his season debut at GP La Marseillaise last month and will resume racing in about two weeks, officials said.

“We are only at the beginning of February, I have trained very well since my break in November, and I have clocked up to 6,000 kilometers since then,” Bardet said. “It’s never nice to get hurt, especially at home. It’s annoying, but it’s just a small setback. … My injury is more embarrassing than serious, and I will continue to keep up my training before returning to competition very quickly.”

That awkward handshake between Froome and Bardet will also have to wait.

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