Paris - Belgian Philippe Gilbert was forced to withdraw from the Tour de France on Tuesday with a fractured left knee cap after a spectacular crash into a ravine on stage 16.
WATCH: Gutsy Gilbert survives spectacular TDF crash
Quick-Step veteran Gilbert was 57.2km from the finish and in the
lead of the 218km-long 16th stage when he negotiated a bend badly and
flew headfirst over a wall.
Although he was helped back onto his bike to finish the stage, won by
French teammate Julian Alaphilippe, Gilbert emerged from the X-ray
truck suffering from his endeavours.
His team said that after further tests at a hospital in Toulouse, the
fracture was discovered, meaning he had to pull out of the race.
"I want to say that I'm happy to be here after that tough moment," he said.
"This isn't how I wanted to finish my Tour and leaving it like this really hurts."
Quick-Step bosses panicked when Gilbert went over the wall - it was
on the same descent, albeit several kilometres below, that Italian Fabio
Casartelli died in a horrible crash in 1995.
Negotiating a left-hand bend at speed, Gilbert failed to brake in
time, skidded and was sent flying head first over a parapet to land on
rocks several metres below.
Television pictures showed officials helping him to climb back out
and onto the road, where he jumped gingerly back on his bike to finish
"We played it well. I attacked to put a little bit of pressure on our group, I wanted to help Julian," Gilbert added.
"Tactically, we did well, but I crashed and it was all my fault. I simply took the wrong line.
"I fell onto rocks and, when I landed, I thought I'd been broken apart. I've had a lucky escape."
The race ends on Sunday on the Champs Elysees in Paris.