BAGNERES-DE-BIGORRE, France – In 116 years of racing at the Tour de France, riders have done all sorts of bizarre things, from jumping on trains to fighting with fans at mountain stops.
Rarely have they just vanished in the middle of a stage like Rohan Dennis did Thursday during the first Pyrenean stage.
For a couple hours on an otherwise uneventful day in the mountains, nobody was able to say where the time trial world champion had gone. His Bahrain-Merida team even sent an alarming message out on social networks, saying all it cared about was “the welfare” of Dennis after Tour organizers announced he had pulled out of the race.
The Australian ultimately resurfaced at the finish line in Bagneres-de-Bigorre, where British rider Simon Yates, the reigning Spanish Vuelta champion, posted his first stage win after a long breakaway that did not shuffle the overall standings.
“We are also confused,” Bahrain-Merida team director Gorazd Stangelj said. “It was his decision today to stop at the feed zone. We tried to speak with him. He said, 'I just don't want to talk,' and abandoned the race.”
Dennis' withdrawal was even more surprising as it came a day before Friday's short time trial in Pau, where he would have been an obvious favorite alongside defending Tour champion Geraint Thomas given his pedigree in the race against the clock.
Yates launched a counterattack behind a group of fugitives in a technical downhill and was joined at the front by Gregor Mühlberger and Pello Bilbao. The trio worked well together until the final sprint shaped up 200 meters from the finish line in Bagneres-de-Bigorre. Yates launched the sprint, was first into the last turn and held off Bilbao for the victory.