Cadel Evans' hopes of becoming Australia's first Tour de France champion virtually ended on Tuesday's ninth stage when he tumbled down the standings on an epic, but painful day of racing.
BMC rider Evans had taken the race lead at the end of Sunday's eighth stage, when he finished 10secs behind stage winner Andy Schleck to take a 20sec overall lead on the Luxembourger.
However a day after the race's first rest day Evans was dropped halfway through the 25.5km Col de la Madeleine climb as the Astana team of reigning champion Alberto Contador set a punishing pace.
He eventually finished 42nd at 8min 07sec behind Schleck and Contador as Frenchman Sandy Casar took the stage honours having been part of an early breakaway.
Evans, the two-time runner-up in 2007 and 2008, dropped 17 places to 18th overall and 7:47 behind Schleck.
The Australian collapsed in tears into a teammate's arms at the finish, and after talking to BMC team manager John Lelangue he finally found enough composure to explain his day of suffering in the saddle.
He revealed that the left arm he injured in a crash early on the eighth stage was actually fractured, handicapping him for a stage which was billed as a major battle between the yellow jersey contenders.
"It cost me a lot of energy, but maybe in my situation, in the yellow jersey, it's also vulnerability," said Evans.
"I'm not at my normal level, but when you're in the yellow jersey at the Tour whether you're good or not you have to be there. The team were all fantastic, but obviously it's me who has to finish off the job."
As Schleck and Contador went on to duel to the summit, crossing over with a 2min 10sec deficit to a group of leaders, Evans battled up the rest of the climb to crest the summit 9:38 behind the frontrunners.
At the end of the 32km descent towards the finish line, Evans finished over eight minutes behind stage winner Casar with Schleck inheriting the yellow jersey with a 41sec lead on Contador.
Evans broke down in tears in a teammate's arms after he crossed the line, distraught at seeing his 2010 Tour ambitions all but disappear.
BMC team manager Lelangue tried to put a silver lining on the situation.
"We knew there would be repercussions after his crash. But for us the race continues," said Lelangue, who was quick to praise Evans's heroic efforts to close the gap on the descent.
"He tried to limit the damage on the way down from the Madeleine, he did a great job on the descent. We lost the yellow jersey, but that's racing, you just have to accept it. But Cadel really showed his fighting spirit today. He was more than courageous."
Schleck said afterwards he did not regard Evans as a big contender anyway, given the Australian's efforts at the three-week Giro d'Italia in May.
"I'm not really surprised Cadel had a bad day today, especially with the Giro behind him. I didn't really see him winning this Tour," said Schleck. "He's got a fracture in his arm, and that doesn't make things easier. Unfortunately he lost the jersey but that's the race. I'm happy that I now have it."
Asked whether his Tour campaign was now over, Evans added: "I haven't seen the results yet but I'm pretty sure it's over for this year."
© AFP 2010