British cycling hits low after two years of highs
The departure of Chris Froome, pictured here on July 3, 2014, from the Tour de France has sent British cycling to a new low following two years of unbridled success - by Lionel Bonaventure
Froome became the second high-profile Briton to crash out of this year's Tour after sprint ace and former world champion Mark Cavendish.
Cavendish had been hotly tipped to win Saturday's opening stage, which finished in his mother's home town.
It was also hoped he would get back to his previous all-conquering ways after winning just two stages on last year's Tour.
But he caused a spill in the sprint finish in Harrogate and separated his shoulder, pulling out before the start of Sunday's second stage.
His OPQS team later revealed he would need an operation and will be out for six weeks.
If that wasn't bad enough, Tour favourite Froome crashed on Tuesday's stage and had to start Wednesday's with a splint on his injured wrist.
Yet he crashed twice more and cut a pained and sorry figure as he climbed into a team car and meekly left the defence of the crown he won so dominantly last year.
Already there had been questions asked when only four Britons lined up at the start of the 101st edition of the Grand Boucle, and second to start in Britain.
That leaves only Geraint Thomas of Sky and Orica GreenEDGE's Simon Yates still in the race.
Thomas will play a vital role in helping Sky's new leader Richie Porte's attempt to win the Tour title for the team for a third straight year, but Yates has so far been anonymous.
Sky team manager Dave Brailsford said humbly after Wednesday's stage: "On a day like today you know there's going to be some winners and there's going to be some losers.
"Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, and I think you've got to lose in a good way and win in a good way."
But it's all a far cry from the last two years in which Bradley Wiggins made history by becoming the first Briton to win the Tour de France in 2012.
What's more, he did it in a British team and then went on to lead Britain to a hugely successful Olympic Games in cycling as he won time-trial gold.
Britain won eight gold medals on the track and road combined while no other country managed more than one.
A year later Froome made it a British and Sky double at the Tour as he succeeded the injured Wiggins as champion.
With this year's Tour starting in Britain it had led many to suggest the country had become the new centre of the cycling world.
Brailsford himself said before the Tour that Britain had become "a cycling nation".
Yet that was to paper over the cracks.
Britain won only two gold medals at this year's World track championships.
The Sky team has also been much criticised for their policy of focussing almost entirely on the Tour de France and ignoring to a large extent staple and historic races such as the Spring Classics.
They went some way to correcting that this year as Thomas had top eight finishes at both the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix, where Wiggins also came in ninth.
Yet Sky didn't help themselves either by leaving national icon Wiggins out of their Tour team.
It may have been the right decision as the charismatic and temperamental Wiggins could have distracted attention from the team's primary aim of winning the race with Froome.
But with Froome now out, Sky and Britain are lacking a natural and confident leader.