Andreas Klöden (RadioShack) battled through stage 10 of the Tour de France but his team manager Johan Bruyneel remains tentative as to whether the German can still challenge for the podium.
Klöden crashed on stage 9 and was taken to hospital with suspected broken bones. He was cleared to race later that night but was diagnosed with a hematoma and severe muscle tension in his back. Able to ride on yesterday's rest day he made the tough call to continue in the race although he told journalists at today's start in Aurillac that he'd been unable to put pressure on the pedals during his rest day ride.
"The start was okay but there was a crash again and we had three guys in there, but half the peloton crashed. Andreas got through the day but that's far from saying he felt great. He's definitely not recovered and he had some trouble on the last climb," Bruyneel told Cyclingnews at the finish.
RadioShack came into the Tour with a formidable line up of experienced riders, however they lost Janez Brajkovic early in the race after a crash. Chris Horner followed a few days later – out with concussion and a broken nose – while Levi Leipheimer crashed and lost time. It left Klöden as the team's only GC threat until stage nine and the German still lies in a relatively strong position on, 2:43 down but within striking distance of his main rivals for Paris.
Despite today's encouraging battle of survival Bruyneel remained cautious.
"It's better than two days ago and I hope he's better tomorrow, but I don't know if he's going to be with the lead guys on the first stage in the Pyrenees. If you're hurt in then your back that's basically where all the power comes and after the stage he was in pain," he said.
"Before the crash in my opinion he was a serious contender for the podium. If he can recover I still consider him a candidate but all we can do is remain hopeful because if it's like today then he won't be a contender for the podium. Sometimes things can change can fast and while you can recover in the Tour you can never get back to being 100 per cent. I'm optimistic."
Should Klöden falter and slip out of contention, Bruyneel admitted that the team would struggle in the race with only a possible stage win a realistic goal.
"We've lost everything. We came with four guys and our goal was the podium and the teams classifications. The teams has gone because we lost two of our guys so we still remain hopefully for the podium and after that we'll go for stage win but there are 150 guys who want one.
"For the moment it's not our Tour de France and everything is going wrong and we have to accept it. We had a good start to the season and we had other goals like the Tour of California and the Tour of the Basque country so it makes it a little easier to accept and we've not put everthing on the Tour or one guy, but it's not fun. I'm not having a lot of fun at the Tour de France. That's the way it is."
Meanwhile Horner, who has spent several days in hospital, is on his way back home to the United States. The American came into the race in the best form of his life after a winning performance in the Amgen Tour of California.
"Chris is good. He's flying back to the US today and he's fine. I spoke with him in the phone and he feels good. He's thinking about the Tour of Utah and the Tour of Colorado."