Frenchman Christophe Moreau's bid for a place on the Tour de France podium hit the skids on Saturday as the race's first time trial sorted out the contenders from the pretenders.
Ag2R team leader Moreau began the Tour in the form of his life, and hoping for a first ever podium place having won the Dauphiné Libéré stage race and the French championship. At the end of the 54km race against the clock, held on a winding and rain-hit undulating course around Albi on Saturday, the 36-year-old will have to review his ambitions.
Moreau limped home in 125th place from the 166-strong field at over nine minutes behind Astana's Alexandre Vinokourov, who stunned the specialists to finish the time trial 1min 14secs ahead of Australian Cadel Evans.
Despite still having a 5:10 deficit to Danish climbing specialist Michael Rasmussen, the powerful Kazakh is now back in contention for the yellow jersey - and ready to attack in the next three days of climbing in the Pyrenees.
Moreau's podium bid had suffered a blow on the wind-battered 11th stage to Montpellier when Vinokourov's Astana team forced a split in the peloton, leaving Moreau, who had crashed earlier, finishing the stage over three minutes in arrears. On Saturday Moreau said he fell victim to the classic cycling symptom of the 'bonk' - running out of fuel, feeling hungry and ultimately losing power.
"I still have a lot of aches and pains from my crash, but it was a bad day for me overall. At the end I hit the wall, I just had no energy left," he said. "On the descent (leading into Albi) I nearly crashed, my foot came out of my pedal. Vincent Lavenu (team manager) was pushing me on, but I just didn't have it in the end.
"Now, I have to try and get my strength back if I want to try and attack like I did on the stage to Tignes. But I've experienced worse setbacks. As long as the race is not over, I've got nothing to lose."
Moreau was not the only big name to fall victim to the time trial, which is traditionally known as 'the race of truth'.
Iban Mayo (Saunier Duval) and Alejandro Valverde (Caisse d'Epargne), who were less than three minutes off Rasmussen's lead prior to the time trial, finished a massive 6:04 and 6:08 respectively behind Vinokourov. Valverde is now 11th overall at 5:48 behind Rasmussen, while Mayo is 12th on the same time.
Valverde said he simply didn't have the legs. "I had an off-day. This morning I felt good, but not long after I started I felt I wasn't at my best," said the Spaniard, who has failed to finish the past two Tours because of injuries sustained in crashes.
"When I saw my deficit at the first time check, I knew I was going to lose a lot of time. But that's the Tour, one day you win, another day you lose. I'm here to learn and before being able to win I think you really have to get to know it. The most important thing for me is to get to Paris."
© AFP 2007