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Nibali, the 2014 Tour winner, fell with 3.8 kilometers remaining in the Alpe d’Huez stage. After an initial X-ray, the doctors took him to the Grenoble hospital via an ambulance with no airlift options available. Later that day, Bahrain-Merida’s team doctor confirmed the injury. He was sitting fourth overall after stage 12.
Nibali posted a tweet in Italian prior to Friday’s stage. Translated, he said:
“Hello guys we are returning to the hotel, unfortunately the outcome of the medical report is not good, I was confirmed the fracture to the vertebra, tomorrow I will return home for a period of recovery. Thank you for all your affection shown to me! To the next.”
The crash added to a growing list of fan- and vehicle-related incidents in cycling. Police and workers for the organization lined much of the 13.8-kilometer mountain road, but space was limited.
“Bardet was up the road after his attack, there were motos there, and they were squeezing in on the road, there was not space,” Nibali explained.
“There were two police motorbikes, I was following Froome, I was feeling good, then it slowed and I fell down.”
“The blow gave me big pain in my back, it blocked it.”
Stage winner Geraint Thomas (Sky) was right behind when the crash happened.
“I was actually on his wheel,” said Thomas. “I didn’t see if he hit a motorbike or a spectator but I rode over his back wheel. I unclipped and managed to stay upright.
“Obviously it’s not good to see, it’s not good for the race and for sure he should have been there to fight for the win as well. It’s a big downer on the day as well.”
At the finish, Nibali was unsure about the severity of his injury.
“I don’t even know myself,” Nibali said when asked how he was at the stage 12 finish line.
“I have a back that hurts, and until I see with the exams, I don’t know.
“I took a hard blow. It was hard to breathe when that happens, to start [riding] again right away.”
Despite the crash, he did well to finish nearly with the first group, led by Thomas. Nibali crossed the line at 13 seconds behind, which put him at fourth overall at 2:37, within striking distance.
He said it was a massive effort to rejoin the front group.
“I had to grit my teeth to get to the finish. I even have a hard time to stand up now. I hope that it’s not anything serious, but we are going to see in the next hours,” the Italian added.
Such good form allowed him to attack once at 9.4 kilometers out and follow the favorites into the final kilometers until disaster struck.
“I’m upset. My form was there, and today I believed in it strongly, my legs were going well and I felt good,” Nibali added.
“The first attack I made was to see if someone was hurting or was going well, but the idea was to attack in the final again.”
Bahrain said Nibali was “unfit to start” stage 13 Friday after examination at the hospital. It confirmed he had fractured the 10th vertebra in his back and was having difficulty breathing.
Following Richie Porte’s (BMC) crash and abandonment in stage 9, this further reduces the field of viable GC favorites with Team Sky in the driver’s seat.
Two fan videos posted later in the day on Twitter seem to indicate that Nibali struck a fan on the right side of the road, causing the crash.
— Radsportcafé (@radsportcafe) July 19, 2018
— Diego Alvarez (@diegoalvarez12) July 19, 2018