By Julien Pretot
LOUDENVIELLE, France (Reuters) - Thibaut Pinot suffered more heartbreak on the Tour de France on Saturday when he lost all hope of winning the race after failing to sustain the favourites' pace in the first high mountain stage.
The 30-year-old, carrying the host nation's hopes of a first French overall winner in 35 years, crossed the line 18 minutes, 43 seconds down on Slovenia's race favourite Primoz Roglic of team Jumbo-Visma.
Last year, Pinot put on a blistering performance in the Pyrenees before pulling out of the race in tears with a thigh injury in the Alps just two days before the finish in Paris.
In this edition, the dream appears to be over much more quickly.
"My back was hurting so much I had no strength, I could not pedal," said Pinot, who appeared to ponder his participation in future editions of the Tour.
"I want to apologise to my team mates, to those who support me. It's a lot of setbacks for those who support me. Maybe it's a turning point in my career.
"It's too much for me," added Pinot, who has only finished the Tour once in four attempts since he came third overall in 2014.
A winner of one of the most prestigious classics, the Giro di Lombardia, in 2017, and also a winner of stages on all three grands tours, Pinot has cracked several times on the Tour de France and could not break the jinx this year.
Despite a crash in the opening stage that left him suffering back pain, Pinot had seemed in good spirits at the start of the eighth stage in Cazeres-sur-Garonne.
But he soon lost touch with the peloton on the ascent to the Port de Bales, an 11.7-km climb at an average gradient of 7.7%, huffing and puffing as the other main contenders disappeared up the road.
"We had managed to keep his injury quiet for a few days, but on a stage like today's there's no hiding possible," said his team manager Marc Madiot.
"Now we're going to try to win stages to save our pride and we're going to try to fix him."
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Ken Ferris)