Fabio Aru (Astana) slipped from second to fourth in the overall classification of the Tour de France after being distanced on the Col du Galibier and the fast descent to the stage 17 finish at Serre-Chevalier, but the Italian national champion refuses to give up the fight for overall victory or at least a place on the final podium in Paris.
Aru survived the general shake out on the Col du Télégraphe and the early slopes of the Col du Galibier. However, he struggled when Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) began attacking in the final, high-altitude kilometres of the 2642m mountain pass.
He fought back and closed the gap once, then again, and then a third time but when further accelerations came close to the summit, the elastic snapped and Aru was distanced. He fought his to the summit but began the fast descent 20 seconds behind. Although he held the gap until the junction at the summit of the Col du Lautaret and caught a small group of riders in front of him, Chris Froome, Mikel Landa, Romain Bardet and Rigoberto Urán worked together into the headwind to open the gap further.
From there, Aru could only limit his losses. After having taken the yellow jersey on the steep finish at Peyragudes, and lost in Rodez due to a split in the peloton, Aru is now outside the top three overall at 53 seconds to Froome, and 26 seconds behind Bardet and Uran.
"I can't be happy but the Tour de France finishes on Sunday," he said defiantly as he warmed down on the rollers, trying to ride out the disappointment as he cooled down.
"It's not a good day for me but that's cycling, you've got to accept the rough with the smooth," he philosophised.
He admitted he was simply unable to respond to the series of attacks on the Col du Galibier.
"We were pretty high when [Dan] Martin attacked first and I didn't have the ability to respond to the last one. That's life…"
Aru is now fourth overall, 53 seconds down on race leader Chris Froome. He could still turn the race upside down on the mountain finish to the summit of the Col d'Izoard but needs to distance Froome, Urán and Bardet before Saturday's time trial around Marseille. He now also has to look behind him, as Landa is only 31 seconds behind him in the overall classification.
"Yesterday was tough, today too and tomorrow will be more of the same," Aru predicted.
"I've lost time to my closest rivals and I've slipped to fourth overall but not all is lost. My Tour doesn't end here."