Blazin' Saddles

‘How hard can sport be?’ Rider forced to quit Tour with 39km left

Blazin' Saddles

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Lieuwe Westra (Imago)

There were magnificent scenes on the Champs-Elysees in Paris on Sunday as Chris Froome completed his overall victory in the Tour de France.

Every rider that crossed the finishing line shared a sense of achievement because it is no mean feat to spend three weeks on a saddle travelling for 3,404 kilometres - including over some of the most brutal mountains you could imagine.

Therefore, poor old Lieuwe Westra deserves a mention after a heartbreaking tale unfolded at this year's Tour.

The Dutch Vacansoleil-DCM rider put his body on the line like all the others during the race, but with three stages left he started to struggle with a chest infection.

Two brutal days in the mountains remained before the final flat stage in Paris - and Westra somehow dug into his reserves to finish the climbing stages within the time limit and have what you would have thought would be his day in the sun in Paris.

Most of the final stage is nothing more than a casual bike ride with the triumphant riders even taking time to sip champagne and smoke cigars.

However, in the latter stages it gets fast as the teams with the best sprinters ramp up the pace to around 50km/h as they look to control the peloton.

For Westra it all proved too much. His infection left him breathless and behind the peloton - and rather than endure the embarrassment of being lapped on the final circuit then disqualified for being outside of the time limit, he pulled out of the race with just 39km to go.

To give you some idea of how close to the finish that is, it would be the equivalent of running a marathon then having to give up with about 500m to go.

"How hard can a sport be?" Westra wrote on Twitter. "I kept going for three days while sick just to finish the race then I got dropped on the finishing circuit."

In the process Westra also became the first man since 1977 to abandon the race on the final stage.

At least the 30-year-old has felt the satisfaction of completing the race before, as in 2011 he finished the Tour in 128th position.

He may not have got a final ranking in this year's edition, but Saddles, at least, says 'chapeau' for braving through his illness and coming so close.

Perhaps he could share a beer and exchange frustrations with Ted King, who was kicked out of the Tour early on for missing a cut-off point despite having separated his shoulder in a crash in a previous stage and soldiering on through excruciating pain.

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