World time-trial champion Rohan Dennis has wished his teammates well for the rest of the Tour de France but offered no insight as to why he quit the race dramatically, a day before a stage the Australian was fancied to win.
The time-trial specialist stopped at a feed zone 80km into Thursday’s 12th stage when it was announced that he would be withdrawing from the race. He disappeared for several hours, prompting his team, Bahrain-Merida, to issue a statement on Twitter raising concerns over the 29-year-old’s “welfare”.
He later turned up at the Bahrain-Merida bus at the finish line but left the bus with his agent and a team media officer, refusing to talk to the waiting media.
The team later said the rider made the decision “reluctantly” but offered no further clarity as to why he pulled out. Nor did Dennis when he eventually issued a statement and said he was “very disappointed” to leave the race at this point, but stopped short of giving an explanation.
“Obviously the individual time trial tomorrow had been a big goal for me and the team, but given my current feeling it was the right decision to withdraw earlier today,” Dennis said.
“I wish my teammates the very best for the remainder of the race and would like to thank all the Tour de France fans who cheered for me, at home and on the roadside, since Brussels. I will hopefully be back competing in this great race again over the coming seasons.”
Amid the initial confusion, Bahrain-Merida sports director Gorazd Stangelj had said he was “confused” and “disappointed” that Dennis, who won the Tour of Switzerland time trial last month, had quit.
“We actually expected a big effort from him tomorrow,” Stangelj said. “It was his decision today to stop in the feed zone. We tried to speak with him. He said, ‘I don’t want to talk’ and just abandoned the race.
“His condition is not bad, he’s good enough to perform at the Tour de France. For sure it has nothing to do with his condition.”
Dennis was fancied to be in contention to take out Friday’s individual time-trial stage in Pau and his exit will be a boon for defending Tour champion Geraint Thomas, who is also expected to be in the mix on Friday.
Dennis has just one year remaining on his contract with Bahrain-Merida and there has been some speculation he is growing impatient with playing second fiddle to former Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali.
But when asked whether Dennis was difficult to work with, Stangelj said: “I didn’t have any problem with him this season.
“He is a special guy, let’s say all the champions are, he is really 100% when he wants something and it’s difficult to make everyone 100% happy at the same moment.”
The Bahrain-Merida team have been the subject of some controversy this year in the aftermath of the Operation Aderlass doping investigation, which is ongoing and had connected Milan Erzen, of the team’s management, to the investigation. Erzen has forcefully insisted that any allegations against him are false and unfounded.
Asked after Thursday’s stage if there were any other issues that may have led to Dennis’s sudden withdrawal, Stangelj said: “Come on, don’t put words in my mouth.”