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LORIENT, France (VN) — Sunweb’s Michael Matthews, the defending champion of the points classification at the Tour de France, pulled out of the race Wednesday morning.
The punchy Australian had been among the top pre-race favorites for the Tour’s lumpy fifth and sixth stages. Instead of fighting for a fourth or potentially fifth career Tour stage win, however, he’s headed home due to a fever.
“Early this morning, the doctor had an early call from him to say he had to throw up,” sport director Luke Roberts said. “He had difficulty then getting back to sleep. He couldn’t eat his breakfast.” [related title=”More Tour de France news” align=”right” tag=”Tour-de-France”]
According to Roberts, Matthews only became ill as of Wednesday morning but the fever he developed quickly rose until doctors made the decision that he should not make the start.
It was not an easy call, but it was one that physicians and Matthews agreed needed to be made.
“We waited to the last moment. We had to see how it was. Of course, for any bike rider, they don’t want to stop a Tour de France early,” Roberts said.
“Michael’s been contributing to the team. He wouldn’t want to stop himself. The doctors made the decision that he’s not in a [place] to start and Michael realizes that as well that he can’t finish the stage today.”
It’s not the first time this season that health problems have come between Matthews and a major goal. A crash at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad left him with a shoulder fracture that derailed his classics campaign this spring. Now, he’ll miss out on the challenge of defending his green jersey at the Tour.
“Extremely disappointing for him. It would have been a highlight for him, these two stages,” Roberts said.
Beyond losing a stage hunter, Sunweb is also losing a big engine for Tom Dumoulin’s GC bid. Indeed, trying to put the former Giro d’Italia winner into yellow has been the squad’s central focus at the Tour all along.
“Michael is not only a strong guy in going for [stage] results, but he’s also of huge value to the team on the difficult stages, so it is a huge blow for us to lose him,” coach Tom Veelers said. “Still, we will continue to fight with seven guys and we wish Michael all the best in feeling better soon.”
Dumoulin has enjoyed a strong first few stages, gaining time on several rivals by finishing with the lead group in stage 1 and delivering a strong team time trial in stage 3. The biggest challenge will come in the mountains, when Dumoulin will hope he has the legs — despite having ridden this year’s Giro — to hang with the climbing specialists.
However it plays out, the Dutchman will no longer be able to rely on Matthews as the race progresses.