Nairo Quintana has relinquished all but the faintest hope of winning the 2016 Tour de France after a bruising stage 17, where he lost contact with the yellow jersey group on the Finhaut-Emosson summit finish and ceded another half a minute to Chris Froome.
The Colombian had been biding his time up to this point, waiting until the race hit the Alps to launch his assault on reigning champion Froome, who was 2:59 ahead going into the second rest-day. But instead of beginning to claw back time, he lost 28 more valuable seconds as Richie Porte attacked on the hors categorie climb and Froome followed.
After what he described as a "bad day" where his "body didn't feel good" on the final climb, Quintana now finds himself fourth overall, 3:27 down on Froome, who is looking unflappable with just three GC stages before Paris.
Asked if his 'sueño amarillo' (yellow dream) – as he has been referring to his ambitions here – had just ended, Quintana's response was telling.
"There are lots of years left," he said.
"I'm 26 and the guys ahead of me are much older and have much more experience. The dream is not over and there are many years to come, many years to keep trying."
Until this point the Movistar rider has made a point of saying there are still many days and many mountains left in this particular Tour. That has now turned to years in his career.
He did, however, offer a somewhat cursory flicker of hope, adding: "Anything can happen before Paris."
Quintana insisted that he had felt good all the way to the final climb, and his teammate Alejandro Valverde did plenty of work to soften up the front of the yellow jersey group on the final climb. The expected attack, however, never came, and the upper slopes turned into an exercise in damage limitation.
After crossing the line he went straight into the anti-doping area and would not emerge for an hour and a half, not receiving the call of nature necessary to provide a sample. He was greeted by a group of Colombian fans and a mass of journalists who had been waiting begin the inquisition as to what had happened to him on the mountain.
"It wasn't a great day for me. I was hoping to do better because I had good sensations but at the end there my body didn't feel good," said Quintana.
"I did the best I could today. I hope that in the upcoming stages my body can react in a good way, as it has in recent years."
The 26-year-old insisted that generally there is no problem with his physical state, saying he simply had a bad day.
"I feel ok. I think it was a bad day. I hope to recover, and hope that my body returns to its natural state, to be as it always has been in all the other races I've done this year."
Even if he no longer sees the yellow jersey as a tangible prospect, Quintana is well in the running for a third podium finish, and he must hope his body does indeed react on tomorrow's 17km time trial in Megève, which, though uphill, doesn't possess the steep gradients throughout of a true mountain time trial.
Asked if he could rediscover his strengths and put in a solid display, he said: "I hope so; I hope to feel at my best and put in the best performance I can."
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