Nairo Quintana (Movistar) suspects his underwhelming displays of late at the Tour de France are due to an allergic reaction and, after seeing Chris Froome (Team Sky) drift further into the distance on the stage 18 time trial, confirmed he is now engaged in a battle for the podium.
Quintana's travails became apparent on Wednesday's summit finish at the Emosson dam, where he lost contact with the yellow jersey group and ceded 28 seconds to Froome, saying his "body didn't feel good".
On Thursday's 17km uphill time trial in Megève he shipped a further 1:10 to the man who stood above him on the podium in 2013 and 2015, though he did gain time on the two riders above him on GC, Bauke Mollema and Adam Yates.
"The sensations are still not good. Something is up – this level of performance is not normal for me," Quintana told a huddle of journalists after crossing the line.
"It's not fatigue that I'm feeling but still, the body isn't responding. It could be some sort of allergy I've got at the moment because my legs aren't getting enough oxygen. It could be some sort of allergen in the area that's been affecting me these last few days. I hope with the rain thats coming in these next days I can keep it at bay."
The hope for rain was also something that Movistar boss Eusebio Unzué touched upon, though he told Spanish news agency EFE that the team doesn't know exactly what is wrong with its star rider.
What he does know is that Quintana "is not himself" and that "miracles are hard to come by".
On stage 17 up at the Emosson dam, a downcast Quintana implicitly renounced any hope of winning this Tour de France, saying that he still has many years to get his hands on the yellow jersey. Today, with his deficit to Froome having extended to 4:37, he explicitly stated that a spot on the podium represents the ceiling of what he can achieve here.
"Despite not being in great form at the moment, a fourth place at the Tour, or trying to fight for the podium, isn't bad at all," he said.
"We'll have to see how my body reacts, whether this allergy that's holding me back goes away and I my body can respond how it usually does."
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