Alberto Contador crossed the finish line in La Pierre-Saint-Martin in a daze, with the Tinkoff-Saxo team staff pushing and escorting him to the team bus parked further up the road of the Pyrenean ski resort.
Contador seemed to struggle to even turn the pedals, such was the fatigue in his legs. He seemed to be on the ropes, close to a technical knockout, and was unable or refused to speak with the swarm of Spanish radio reporters who surrounded him. He had lost 2:51 to Chris Froome (Team Sky), finishing a lowly 11th on the stage. He is now sixth overall, 4:04 behind Froome.
It is a situation he has rarely experienced during his successful Grand Tour career and means his hopes of a Giro-Tour double are in tatters.
“I couldn’t breathe very well, it was hard to breathe,” he admitted at the Tinkoff-Saxo bus after recovering slightly from his huge effort to limit his losses.
“I didn’t feel good, I feel tired. I struggled to breathing and couldn’t spin my legs. I do not know why but when it‘s impossible to breathe, you can’t clear out the lactic acid from your legs. I actually felt better in the saddle, which is the opposite of my best riding style.
“It was a bad day for me. I tried to do it the best I could but I was worried about losing even more time. In cycling you have good days and bad days and hopefully there will be better days. Ill try to carry on day by day and see if I can recover and do something. Now I need to rest up, step back a little, study the situation with a cool head and act based on that.”
Despite suffering a terribly disappointing defeat, Contador praised Froome for his stage victory and for tightening his grip on the overall race lead and yellow jersey.
"For me it was impossible to keep up with Froome, but lots of others too," he said. "We’ve got to congratulate Froome. He’s three points better than the rest of us. He has done what he wanted and has shaken up the general classification."
Like all the other riders left defeated on the first climb of this year’s Tour de France, Contador hung onto the hope that Froome has a long way to go before the winner is eventually crowned in Paris.
“The Tour is still very long. I have been in a similar position many times and you can never assume that you’ve won,” he said, perhaps knowing all the mountain stages to come could also be a severe test of his own ability.