The Tinkoff rider was suffering with a fever overnight and on the morning of the final Pyrenean stage to Andorra, compounding what had been a bruising start to the Tour after crashes on the opening two stages.
Whether it was bluffing or not, the Spaniard made a bid to get across to the early break on the first climb of stage 9 but it soon transpired he didn’t have the legs and was absorbed back into the Sky-led peloton. After that he spent much of his time just off the back of the bunch, deep in converstation with his team car.
The 33-year-old climbed off his bike and into the car two thirds of the way up the second first-category ascent of the day, with 100km remaining, giving an apologetic wave to the cameras as he did so.
"Alberto had a bit of fever this morning. He told us at the beginning of the race that he wasn't feeling super and it's obvious," Tinkoff directeur sportif Sean Yates told French TV mid-race from the team car.
Contador had suffered physically after his crashes, losing time on the uphill finish on stage 2 and again in the finale of the Massif Central stage on day 5. On the first major mountain stage of the race on Saturday he conceded nearly two further minutes to his rivals and began stage 9 over three minutes in arrears, his hopes of a third yellow jersey all but over.
With the fever adding another layer to his woes, stage 9 - despite the early attack - became an exercise in simply trying to stay in the race. However, as he repeatedly dropped off the back of the bunch in the valley between the first two climbs to talk to his team staff, it became increasingly clear that his race would be coming to an end.