Mayo shelled off the pace by Stage 3

Updated: July 20, 2004, 1:41 PM ET

VILLARD-DE-LANS, France -- Iban Mayo bid farewell to his disappointing Tour de France on Tuesday, pulling out before the start of the gruelling 112-mile 15th stage between Valreas and Villard-de-Lans in the Alps.

"We had a meeting with Iban, team director Julian Gorospe and myself this morning," said Euskaltel team manager Miguel Madariaga.

"Iban said he had no strength left and that he wouldn't be able to finish the stage anyway. We decided it was just as well for him not to start at all."

At the start of the Tour, Mayo had been considered a primary rival of five-time winner Lance Armstrong, who won Stage 15 on Tuesday afternoon in a sprint with Jan Ullrich for the finish line. Armstrong will now wear the yellow jersey as the leader in the general classification.

The Spaniard's Tour hopes, however, took a major blow as early as the third stage when he was involved in a pile-up that resulted in a gash to his left thigh and cost him almost four minutes.

Armstong, on course to win a record sixth Tour, then crushed Mayo by a massive 37 minutes and 40 seconds when the American won the 13th stage in the Pyrenees.

Mayo, who won the eight-day Dauphine Libere in June, was in 49th place overall, trailing former leader Thomas Voeckler by 45 minutes.

The 27-year-old gave up the day before a 15.5-km time trial to l'Alpe d'Huez, where he was expected to do well.

Mayo, who was sixth overall last year, won the l'Alpe d'Huez stage last year and beat Armstrong in a similar time trial at the Mont Ventoux on the Dauphine Libere.

"We don't know what's wrong. Maybe he's suffering from a virus," Madariaga said.

Seen as main challengers to Armstrong's U.S. Postal team in the mountains, the Euskaltel team has struggled on this Tour.

Before the prologue, they lost Gorka Gonzalez, who was declared unfit to start after blood tests. Mayo and his teammates then lost vital time after the third-stage crash.

His teammate and compatriot Haimar Zubeldia, who was fifth last year and also expected to do well this year, abandoned the race in the Pyrenees.