Defending Tour de France champion Cadel Evans has virtually dropped out of contention, blaming a stomach bug, after losing nearly 12 minutes during the race's tough 16th stage in the Pyrenees.
The news came less than 24 hours after Frank Schleck tested positive for a banned diuretic and withdrew from the race,The New York Times noted.
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Evans started the day fourth overall, but the Australian struggled on the climbs while Bradley Wiggins, race leader in yellow jersey, gained ground on key competitors, according to ESPN.
Frenchman Thomas Voeckler won the 16th stage, finishing 1 minute 40 seconds ahead of Denmark's Chris Anker Sorensen and 3mins 22secs clear of Gorka Izagirre and Kazakhstan's Alexandre Vinokourov.
Voeckler — the Stage 10 winner — dominated the 123-mile stretch from Pau to Bagneres-de-Luchon, ESPN wrote.
Wiggins still leads overall — by 2mins 5secs over fellow Briton Chris Froome — while Evans has dropped from fourth to seventh place at 8mins 6secs, according to Australia's Fairfax media.
Evans's American teammate Tejay Van Garderen, who is sixth overall, said the first sign that Evans was struggling was on the Col d'Aspin.
"A couple of times we tried giving him gels and some food and he was saying something like his stomach wasn't really handling it that well," Van Garderen said, Fairfax reported.
"Maybe the heat was getting to him. He looked fine up until the Aspin and then at the Aspin he started getting dropped."
Evans later said: "I had a few stomach issues just before the race ... when it's an hour or two hours before the race there is not a lot you can do," he said after attending the dope control. "I didn't think it would affect me in the race, but obviously that's not my normal level and it's pretty much Tour de France over for me."
Asked if he could come back over the Tour's remaining three stages, he said: "I don't know [if] I am far enough back yet still to be allowed the freedom to go away in a breakaway. You have to be optimistic, but also you have to be realistic. And obviously this year things haven't been coming together. The year is not over, but certainly the retirement present I wanted to give George Hincapie this year ... the hope and wish for that is."
The Tour concludes in Paris on Sunday.
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