Lleida: Dutch rider Danny van Poppel won stage 12 of Spain`s Vuelta on Thursday as Tour de France winner Chris Froome became the latest big name to withdraw from the race.
Froome was aiming to become just the third man to win the Tour and the Vuelta in the same year, but his chances were realistically ended by a crash on Wednesday`s daunting mountainous 138km ride through Andorra and scans on Thursday showed he had suffered a broken bone in his foot.
Van Poppel edged a sprint finish from South African Daryl Impey and Belgium`s Tosh van der Sande to take the 173km stage from Escaldes to Lleida in a time of 4hr 02min 11sec as Germany`s John Degenkolb was again frustrated in his search for a stage win.
There was no major change in the general classification, so Italy`s Fabio Aru retains the leader`s red jersey by 27 seconds from Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez with the Netherlands` Tom Dumoulin three seconds further back.
Froome joins a list of top riders including Peter Sagan, Tejay van Garderen and Dan Martin that have been forced to pull out of the race due to injuries suffered in heavy crashes, whilst 2014 Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali was disqualified on the second stage for being towed by his Astana team car.
"I`m really gutted to be leaving the race but the injuries that I sustained on yesterday`s stage were too much to continue," said Froome.
"I hit my right side heavily and the main impact went on my right foot. I was desperate to dig in and finish the stage and my team-mates did brilliantly to get me through it, but as soon as I got off the bike I couldn`t put any weight on my right side."
There was more controversy as Tinkoff-Saxo only took the start after more safety measures were introduced to protect the riders after Sergio Paulinho became the second member of the Russian team forced to retire from the race after being hit by a television motorbike.
Tinkoff-Saxo had threatened legal action after Sagan had been injured in similar fashion earlier in the week.
Thursday`s relatively flat stage was a brief rest bite after Wednesday`s trek over four category one and a specialised climb.
A five-man breakaway group of Maxime Bouet, Miguel Angel Rubiano, Jaco Venter, Bert Jan Lindeman and Alexis Gougeard built up a lead of over five minutes on the peloton and nearly made it to the finish as only a huge effort from Van Poppel`s Trek and Degenkolb`s Giant-Alpecin teams allowed the peloton to catch them less than two kilometres from the line.
The sprinters then took their positions, but just as on stage 10, Degenkolb found himself boxed in and unable to respond as Van Poppel surged for the line.
"When the opportunity is there you have to take it and in the end it was a nice sprint," said Van Poppel.
"I did the Tour de France when I was 19 and I suffered a lot, but this (yesterday`s stage) came close. I suffered a lot yesterday and I really wanted to win today."