Italian Damiano Cunego on Thursday pulled out of the Tour de France, having earlier battled manfully through the 18th stage after sustaining potentially serious injuries in a crash, team sources said.
“It’s a miracle I finished this stage,” said Cunego, who came over the finish line with blood dripping from a wound under his chin and injuries to his chest and thorax.
By late evening, sources said he would not continue the race.
Lampre’s former Giro d’Italia champion suffered his third crash of this year’s race when his wheels got caught in a rut in the road early on the 196.5km ride from Bourg d’Oisans in the Alps to Saint-Étienne.
Left with a bloodied chin which required stitches, and chest and thorax problems, the diminutive Italian repelled calls by his team managers to pull out.
Thanks to the support of his team, Cunego battled on to finish inside the cutoff limit for late arrivals at 20:12 behind stage winner Marcus Burghardt of Germany.
Cunego said part of the reason he was determined to do so was to make sure the four Lampre teammates who accompanied him also stayed in the race.
“My two wheels ended up in a rut in the road and the next thing I knew I was flying to the ground,” said Cunego. “It’s not the first time I’ve crashed in this tour, I’ve been pretty unlucky. I want to really thank my teammates, they waited for me and helped me back although at one point I wasn’t sure of finishing within the time limit.
“One of our team managers suggested I should just pull out,” he added. “I didn’t want to as that would have risked my teammates missing the time limit as well.”
Cunego was taken to hospital for a scan on his injuries.
His mishap on Thursday meant he dropped from 14th place overall to 20th at 25:48 behind race leader Carlos Sastre of Spain, ahead of Friday’s 19th stage.
© BikeRadar & AFP 2008