MUR DE BRETAGNE (France) • Reigning champion Vincenzo Nibali has admitted that he had "no legs" on the final climb to the finish of Saturday's eighth stage of the Tour de France.
The 30-year-old Sicilian lost contact with the lead bunch on the 2km climb to the finish at Mur de Bretagne with its average gradient of 6.9 per cent.
He gave up another 10sec to race leader Chris Froome, the man he succeeded as Tour champion, and now sits 13th overall, 1min 48sec behind the Briton.
Said Nibali, the Astana team leader: "I had a bad day. I felt good at the beginning of the stage but at the end, I couldn't feel anything any more, I didn't have any legs any more."
His sports director Giuseppe Martinelli looked worried after his protege lost ground on Froome.
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He said: "I don't understand what happened. We must think this was just an off day otherwise, it will be a complicated Tour."
The Italian was banking on yesterday's team time trial to regain some of the lost time.
That is a 28km effort that finishes up the Cote de Cadoudal, a steep 1.7-km ascent where the teams will need to stay as compact as possible as the time will be taken on the fifth rider to cross the line.
"We cannot afford any more mistakes," warned Martinelli.
Today is a rest day before Nibali and his rivals resume battle tomorrow in the mountains.
While Froome has been in excellent form and showing his strength every day, his main rivals for the yellow jersey have all had their struggles.
Nairo Quintana, who finished second to Froome in 2013, is 16th and 1min 56sec behind, while two-time Tour winner Alberto Contador is 36sec back in seventh.
Quintana's Movistar team-mate Alejandro Valverde, who was fourth overall last year, said the Tour starts now for his team and leader.
Froome, meanwhile, has been impressed by American outsider Tejay Van Garderen, just 13sec back and third overall.
Said Froome: "I think we definitely need to include Tejay in that equation but from those other three, I do expect Nairo will be very strong up in the climbs.
"But he's lost a substantial amount of time already so he's going to have to try and make that time up again.
"Alberto, I don't think you can ever write him off. As we've seen time and time again, he doesn't give up until the race is over.
"I guess we'll have to see how Vincenzo goes up the long climbs, it hasn't been a great start for him but things can change."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
TOUR DE FRANCE
Stage 10: StarHub Ch212, tomorrow, 8.15pm