Mark Cavendish said yesterday that he was devastated to have to pull out of the Tour de France, but that he knew immediately after he crashed during Saturday's first stage in Yorkshire that his race was over.
The British sprinter, who is equal third on the all-time list of Tour stage winners with 25, confirmed before the start of yesterday's second stage that he would not be able to continue.
He may now need surgery after damaging collarbone ligaments and could miss the Commonwealth Games later this month .
His failure to continue in the race is his first abandonment in the Tour since he quit in 2008 to focus on his build-up for the Olympic Games in Beijing.
On that occasion he had already snapped up four stage victories in less than two weeks: this time there was no such success, and he has to deal with the worst injury of his career.
"We kind of knew last night," Cavendish said. "We knew straight away. I normally bounce back from some crashes quite well; I assessed my body and for the first time in my career I knew something was wrong.
"I wanted to finish. The crowd that was out, I had to get my bike to the finish.
"I was in pain last night. I held a bit of optimism that it was maybe just swelling and would go down overnight, but it's actually worse this morning (yesterday). It's not possible to start, from a medical point of view. I'm absolutely devastated about it."
Cavendish's Omega Pharma-Quick Step team will now have to make a dramatic switch of tactics. Rather than trying to keep the peloton reined in as much as possible in the first week, as would have been the case with Cavendish in contention, team manager Patrick Lefevre says the Belgian squad will now be on the hunt for breakaways to net stage wins.
"We go from defence to offence," Lefevre said. "The other riders will have a free role and we will have to change our tactics."
The first specific target for the Omega Pharma riders will be the stage on Wednesday, which starts in Ypres in the squad's home country, Belgium, and finishes with several tough cobbled sections usually used in the Paris-Roubaix Classic each April.
The most recent Paris-Roubaix winner, Dutchman Niki Terpstra, is racing in the Tour for Cavendish's team and even prior to the Briton's crash had said he would be targeting that stage.
"My first objective will be to protect (the team's overall contender) Michal Kwiatkowski through the stage and then I might well go for it myself," Terpstra said last week.
Apart from Kwiatkowski, who held the white jersey of Best Young Rider for a hefty spell of the Tour last year and finished 11th in his race debut, Cavendish's German team-mate Tony Martin is three-times world time-trial champion and is expected to target the time trial in Bergerac, the Tour's penultimate stage.
Team doctor Helge Riepenhof said Cavendish had initially wanted to be in the start of the race yesterday but that in the space of a few hours the Briton had realised he was in no condition to continue.
"His first thought was 'I want to race' and he wanted to know what we could do," Riepenhof said.
"With things like this Mark needs some time to be convinced that he has no chance to ride. I spent a bit of time with him talking and he made the decision that he can't race, which was quite lucky for me so that I wasn't the one who had to tell him."
There are circulating reports that Cavendish will now need surgery and up to six weeks off the bike.
Final Leading Positions from Stage 2, York - Sheffield, 201km: 1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 5hrs 08mins 36secs, 2 Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team at 02secs, 3 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-Quick Step at same time, 4 Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale, 5 Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto-Belisol, 6 Michael Albasini (Swi) Orica Greenedge, 7 Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin - Sharp, 8 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling., 9 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team, 10 Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale.