BERN • A fatigued Mark Cavendish left the Tour de France on Tuesday in his bid to be fresh to win a first Olympic medal at the Rio Games next month.
The Briton enjoyed a successful campaign in which he won four stages and re-established himself as the world's best sprinter.
But with four tough Alpine stages to come before the Tour finishes on the Champs-Elysees on Sunday, he decided to cut his race short.
"After an extremely enjoyable and successful couple of weeks with Team Dimension Data, it is with great sadness that I took the decision today to leave the race," he said in a statement.
"After the heat and intensity of the previous stages, we analysed my fatigue levels and decided I'm at a point that would have a detrimental effect on my other big goal for the year - the Olympic Games.
"To leave a race and organisation that I hold so much respect for and a team that I have such a special bond with, has not been an easy decision at all. I want to say thank you to them, along with all the fans for their support and encouragement, today and over the past 16 stages."
The Briton, who wore the yellow and green jerseys in a performance that surprised many, took his tally of stage wins to 30, just four short of the record set by Eddy Merckx, the five-time Tour winner.
In the build-up to this year's Tour, Cavendish was the subject of a tug of war as he fought to balance Tour de France commitments to his sponsor against his Olympic ambitions with British Cycling.
"Mark is really sad to leave the Tour," Douglas Ryder, his Dimension Data team manager, said.
"We are committed to support him in his dream goal of receiving a medal for Britain at the Rio Olympic Games."
The Manxman had been enjoying his best Tour de France for several years, taking stages at Utah Beach, Angers, Montauban and Villars-les-Dombes, although he had struggled in the mountains, notably on the stage out of Andorra over the Col d'Envalira.
The victory on the opening day in Normandy ensured that he wore the yellow jersey for the first time in his career, albeit for one day, and he then spent several stages in the green jersey of points leader while conceding that the title was highly likely to go to Peter Sagan.
Meanwhile, Chris Froome strengthened his grip on the yellow jersey during Stage 17 of the Tour de France yesterday after a dominant performance by Team Sky in the Alps.
Ilnur Zakarin of the Katusha team broke with 6.5km remaining to claim the stage win, his first victory on the Tour, from Jarlinson Pantano after the pair had led a breakaway group with the polka-dot jersey holder Rafal Majka, who was subsequently dropped and finished third.
The gruelling 184.5km stage is the first of four in the Alps.
THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE