Jurgen Van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol) today became the first GC contender to abandon the Tour de France as his knee injury proved too painful to continue.

“He was crying like a little child this morning,” General Manager, Marc Sergeant said at the team’s bus. “It’s not only today, you work for months to achieve something in the Tour and it’s all taken away in a split second.”

Van den Broeck will fly home tonight and go directly to the hospital near his home in Herentals, Belgium. The early diagnosis is a torn or stretched ligament in his right knee.

The Belgian GC leader, 30, crashed in the final kilometre of yesterday’s stage as Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) sprinted to the win.

Several other riders came down as well, but Van den Broeck was the worst off.

“He was the most injured in the crash, I think. At first, he didn’t look so bad, but when we arrived in the hotel his knee was enormously swollen,” Sergeant continued.

“He came to the table like an 80-year-old guy this morning, from that moment we knew it’d be very difficult for him to continue.”

Lotto’s doctor drained 85cc of blood from his knee. Van den Broeck tried to ride his bike, but he couldn’t. “He couldn’t make one [pedal] turn,” added Sergeant. “Already before he tried the rollers, I was convinced it was over.”

Van den Broeck was convinced he could make the podium this year after placing fourth overall in 2010 and 2012. He also knew about the risk of crashing in the first week of the Tour. As a favourite in 2011 he fell and abandoned with a broken collarbone.

Lotto fortunately has Bart De Clercq to try for mountain stages and André Greipel who won three stages last year.

“They were pretty down this morning, everyone was here to work for Jurgen in the GC and all of a sudden it’s gone,” Sergeant said.

“You have to be flexible in the Tour de France; if you come with one leader then it’s hard. Fortunately, we have another leader. We have to fight on.”

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