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Chris Froome withdraws from Liege; Rui Costa, Joaquim Rodriguez, Andy Schleck abandon

Froome is suffering from a "mild chest infection" and will rest ahead of the Tour de Romandie, while Costa abandoned following a crash

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LIEGE, Belgium (AFP) — Tour de France champion Chris Froome was forced to pull out of Sunday’s Liège-Bastogne-Liège at the last moment due to illness, Team Sky said.

Froome has not raced since the end of March, when he finished an underwhelming sixth in the Volta a Catalunya.

“Unfortunately Chris has been suffering from a mild chest infection,” said team doctor Richard Freeman in a statement on the team’s website.

“After an examination this morning (Sunday) we concluded that the best course of action would be to withdraw him from Liège-Bastogne-Liège as a precautionary measure, which will allow him the best chance of recovery ahead of the Tour de Romandie.”

Froome was forced out of Tirreno-Adriatico in March due to a back problem before making his comeback in the Volta, where he was short of his best form.

The 28-year-old had started the season in fine fettle, winning the Tour of Oman in February for the second consecutive year, but his season has since then been disrupted by injury and illness.

The Tour de Romandie, in which he is the reigning champion and which begins on Tuesday, is a crucial step in Froome’s preparation for July’s Tour defense.

After that he is due to race in the Criterium du Dauphine in June, where he is also the title-holder. The race is considered one of the best gauges of a rider’s form before the Tour.

Pete Kennaugh also pulled out of Liège, one of five monuments in cycling, due to an unrelated illness, Sky said.

The withdrawals left Sky with just six riders for the Sunday’s 100th edition of “La Doyenne” (the oldest race) instead of eight, with Richie Porte leading the way.

Another rider who didn’t take the start was Colombian Carlos Betancur. The 24-year-old AG2R La Mondiale rider has been suffering from illness recently, forcing him to abandon during both the Volta a Catalunya and Vuelta al Pais Vasco.

He was fourth in this race last year, his breakout season, and showed he was in fine form last month by winning Paris-Nice.

Crashing out of the race was world champion Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), who hit the deck with Michal Golas (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), David Lopez (Sky) and Torres Agudelo (Team Colombia.

Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), perhaps still feeling the effects of crashes in the previous Ardennes classics, also withdrew.

And Andy Schleck (Trek Factory Racing) pulled out after around 175km, with his Trek team saying he was still suffering pain in his knee from a crash at last Sunday’s Amstel Gold Race.

Schleck started all three Ardennes classics but failed to finish any of them.