GAP, France (VN) — Tejay van Garderen’s Tour de France podium hopes ended bitterly Wednesday when he abandoned midway through the 161-kilometer 17th stage after struggling early in the race.

Van Garderen, 26, struggled to keep pace at about 40km into the stage, later regaining contact, only to lose the wheel again when Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) attacked on the day’s third climb. That change of pace shot van Garderen out the back. After waving off his teammates, he slow-pedaled alone in his thoughts. He stepped off with about 75km to go, and BMC Racing staff hugged him.

BMC Racing officials confirmed that van Garderen was suffering from a minor chest infection since stage 13, but admitted they were caught by surprise by his struggles so early in the stage. Van Garderen made no indication to team staffers before the start of the stage that he was not feeling well.

“We started the stage thinking it would be OK,” BMC Racing manager Jim Ochowicz told reporters. “I feel bad for Tejay. I feel bad for the team. We’ve raced hard up to this point. He’s disappointed, he would have liked to have finished this Tour.”

Van Garderen was not immediately available for comment.

“He said he was sick, but we don’t know what it is,” BMC Racing sport director Max Sciandri told French TV. “We have put two riders with him. It will be difficult for him to stay with the front riders if it continues like this.”

Van Garderen started the first of four decisive Pyrénéen stages last week in third at 3:32 back and remained optimistic about his podium chances.

Speaking to NBC before the start in Digne-les-Bagnes, van Garderen did not hint that he might be feeling ill.

“It’s a hard course today. I reconned it once and raced it once. It’s suited pretty well for me, and I think we’ll have a good race,” van Garderen said at the start. “I got to hold the wheels, and be cautious on the descent off the [Col d’] Allos.”

Van Garderen looked to be on the form of his career, and rode with confidence through the first half of the Tour. Despite losing time to yellow jersey holder Chris Froome (Sky) in the Pyrénées, he was hoping to ride to Paris with real hopes of reaching the final top three.

No one likes to see a GC contender leave the race for reasons of illness or crashes, and yellow jersey Froome was among the first to send condolences to van Garderen.

“Sorry to hear about Tejay,” Froome said on French TV. “He’s ridden a really good Tour de France so far. I hope he recovers well.”

Check back later for more details.