BUSSETO, Italy (Reuters) - A sick Bradley Wiggins withdrew from the Giro d'Italia on Friday to ensure he would be back to full strength for the Tour de France which starts on June 29.
Pre-race favourite Wiggins and defending champion Ryder Hesjedal of Canada both pulled out of the Giro prior to the 13th stage citing illness.
Wiggins, who in 2012 became the first Briton to win the Tour de France and then backed that up with time trial gold at the London Olympics, had been suffering with a chest infection.
"The decision was made with a view to being back to full strength for the Tour," Wiggins told Sky Italia.
"I think had we continued in this Giro, the risk was that I did more damage long-term, so I think the team have taken the decision to put a stop to it now and start thinking about getting back to full strength for the Tour."
"This morning the doctor said 'That's enough', because I didn't really have much sleep last night and yesterday was really bad and we had a long stage again today.
"I'm disappointed, but some things you can't control. It's really disappointing to stop in this way because we came here for so much more," added the 33-year-old Team Sky rider.
The Giro was Wiggins's main aim for the season and he had looked strong early in the 21-stage race but gradually slipped out of contention, blaming his poor performance on the illness that eventually led to his withdrawal.
After losing more than three minutes on the main contenders on Thursday's wet 12th stage, Wiggins was lying 13th overall, five minutes 22 seconds adrift of leader Vincenzo Nibali of Italy.
Team Sky said Colombian Rigoberto Uran, third overall, would be their new leader.
"Bradley will return to the UK today for treatment and to rest and we hope to have him back on the road as soon as possible," team principal Dave Brailsford added.
Garmin-Sharp rider Hesjedal had slipped to 38th place, 32:55 down on Nibali after suffering badly in the first mountain stages of the race last weekend.
"It's heartbreaking," Hesjedal said of his withdrawal in a news release.
"I want to be here for my team and for all the people who have supported me to get me here to this point.
"I built my entire season around the Giro and I came here feeling great, but I have been suffering since the (stage eight) TT (individual time trial).
"We're working on it but we're not sure what's wrong. There's a virus that's been going around, so it could be that, or severe allergies."
Hesjedal became his country's first Giro d'Italia winner when he edged out Spain's Joaquim Rodriguez by 16 seconds with the Canadian gaining the upper hand on the final day's time trial in Milan.
Additional reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by John O'Brien and Alison Wildey