19 Jul 2017

Illness forces Bennett out of Tour

7:10 am on 19 July 2017

New Zealand cyclist George Bennett has been forced to pull out of the Tour de France after getting into difficulty early on during the 16th stage.

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George Bennett Photo: Supplied

Bennett's Lotto team confirmed the 27-year-old had been suffering from illness in recent days.

He was quickly distanced by the peloton during a third category climb at the beginning of the 165km stage and his deficit grew to more than six minutes before he pulled out before halfway.

The New Zealand climber was 12th overall when he quit but had been as high as ninth at one stage last week.

Bennett was seeking to become the first New Zealander to finish in the top 10 of the general classification and says he is devastated his tour has been ended by illness.

"It is not how I imagined this tour would end," he said.

"You put everything into this, you devote your whole life to this for months on end - for years really.

You get into a pretty good position and it all goes over something that is essentially out of your control."

Bennett says he'll now spend a week in bed getting healthy and trying to avoid watching the tour.

Chris Froome (middle) Tour de France winner 2015.

Chris Froome (middle) Tour de France winner 2015. Photo: Photosport

The stage was won by Australian Michael Matthews as Britain's Chris Froome retained the overall leader's yellow jersey.

As the tour heads for a couple of brutal stages in the Alps, Froome leads Italian Fabio Aru by 18 seconds with Frenchman Romain Bardet third - 23 seconds off the pace.

Michael Matthews improved his chances of winning the points classification after his Sunweb team worked hard to keep green jersey holder Marcel Kittel out of contention.

Sunweb rode hard in the first climb of the day as Kittel was dropped, making sure he would not come back, and they collected their third win in four stages after Matthews won stage 14 and Frenchman Warren Barguil prevailed on stage 13.

Matthews collected points in the intermediate sprint and at the finish to narrow the gap with Kittel to 29, setting up a duel with the Quick-Step Floors rider in the final days of the race.

"It had been the same guy every year for five years (Peter Sagan), now this is going to be exciting," said Matthews, who outsprinted Norway's Edvald Boasson Hagen and German John Degenkolb.

Degenkolb complained that Matthews did not hold his line in the sprint, but the Australian was adamant he raced fairly.

"I saw the sprint on TV afterwards. I sprinted in the same direction, I did not change my line. I left a space between me and the barrier," Matthews said, adding that Degenkolb had grabbed him by the neck after the finish.

"He grabbed me by the neck. The officials saw that, I don't know what they're going to do about it. I don't think it's very sportsmanlike."