Canadian Ryder Hesjedal’s road to contention at the Tour de France just got a bit less cluttered.
Luxembourg rider Andy Schleck, the 2010 champion and a strong climber, dropped plans to participate in the marquee race after a bad crash left him with a cracked pelvis.
Schleck has had a difficult season but remained a potent threat. He was gearing his whole year around the Tour, keen to win outright after coming second in 2011.
His withdrawal means two riders at the highest levels of the sport will not be at the starting line in Liege, Belgium, on June 30.
Alberto Contador, an all-round challenger now credited with two Tour victories, will miss the race as part of a doping ban that expires in August.
Although a host of tough riders are still expected to line up for the Tour, the absence of these two improves the odds for Hesjedal of Victoria.
The Garmin-Barracuda team decided recently he should lead their efforts in the Tour, a spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday.
There were questions about whether Hesjedal, who won the three-week Giro d’Italia last month, would have recovered in time to challenge for the French race. He did not start either the Critérium du Dauphiné or the Tour de Suisse, seen as the key tuneup races for the Tour.
Victory in France remains a very tall order for Hesjedal. Each of cycling’s three marquee Grand Tours takes a gruelling toll on competitors.
Top stage-racers of the modern era have typically picked no more than one each season on which to focus. The runner-up behind Hesjedal at the Giro, for example, is sitting out the French race.
The last person to win the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia in a single year was Italian Marco Pantani, in 1998