The Tour de France top ten, never mind the podium, may be a dream too far for former two-time runner-up Cadel Evans after another disappointing day for Australians in the race.
Evans has been racing with a fractured elbow since he crashed at the end of the first week, and the pain, compounded by fast and unforgiving racing on tough terrain, is really taking its toll as the BMC team leader drops further down the standings.
Asked whether his sore elbow was the main concern, Evans said his whole body was now paying for his efforts to compensate.
“That’s what’s starting to trouble me,” he said.
“It’s one thing to have a sore arm, but then when you’ve got a sore back and a sore this and a sore whatever else and you can only pull on one side… that’s all part of it.”
On the third of four days in the Pyrenees on Tuesday, Evans was left struggling early on as wave after wave of attack came on the 11km climb to the Col de Peyresourde just after the start.
Despite his efforts to limit the damage, Evans went on to complete the 199.5km stage over a total of four mountain passes nearly 24 minutes down on stage winner Pierrick Fedrigo, who finished seven minutes ahead of the yellow jersey peloton.
Australia’s reigning world champion came into the Tour hoping to build on a solid Tour of Italy, and dreaming of going better than his runner-up places in 2007 and 2008.
But with only one real day of climbing left, on Thursday’s 17th stage, and a penultimate stage time-trial on Saturday, Evans is way off the pace of leader Spaniard Alberto Contador in 24th overall at 33min 13sec adrift.
It was another sore day in the saddle, and not made any easier by the fact that stage wins, as well as all the places in the tight top ten, are being contested in furious fashion.
“We’ve had a real hard couple of days here,” said Evans.
“I think we had a one day like this last year with an uphill start, but the third week of the Tour when it’s uphill like this and after the days we had, and also the racing we’ve had in the last few stages, has put a lot of people in a lot of difficulty.
“Of course I would have loved to have done something today. I haven’t got the legs.”
Before leaving, Evans added: “Right, next year.”
Fellow Australian Michael Rogers, of HTC-Columbia, is in a similar position, although the Canberran does not have the same kind of expectation as Evans, having never finished on the podium.
Rogers was left trailing in the early stages and eventually finished with Evans’ group 23:42 down on Fedrigo, thus dropping to 29th place.