PRA LOUP, France (Reuters) - American Tejay van Garderen's Tour de France challenge came to a cruel end when the BMC Racing rider pulled out of the race due to illness during the 17th stage on Wednesday.
Van Garderen, who was third overall, visited the medical car several times and eventually stepped off his bike with about 73km of the stage left.
The Tour's medical services said Van Garderen, fifth overall in the 2012 and 2014 editions, was suffering from headaches.
He was three minutes and 32 seconds behind overall leader Chris Froome of Britain.
Van Garderen had enjoyed a fine build-up to the Tour, finishing a close runner-up to Team Sky's Froome in the Criterium du Dauphine last month.
"It's sport, it happens in every sport. We lost our GC (general classification) contender for the podium, we'll have to refocus tonight and set up new goals for the rest of the Tour," team manager Jim Ochowicz told reporters.
"We still have four big days, we're not going away. We'll be there fighting for something new. Tejay is disappointed. He would have liked to finish the Tour.
"He's got a lot of pressure on his shoulders, he's feeling the pain. He understands it's win or lose and he'll fight back. We started the stage thinking he would be OK. I feel bad for Tejay, for the team. We start over tomorrow, we've still got goals."
BMC Racing could now ride in support of Spaniard Samuel Sanchez, who is 13th overall and has an outside chance of making it into the top 10 on Sunday when the race ends.
Reporting by Julien Pretot; editing by Ken Ferris and Toby Davis