Team Sky Principal Dave Brailsford said Friday that even if reigning champion Chris Froome had still been in the Tour de France, he would have had his work cut out to beat Vincenzo Nibali.
Italian Nibali won his third stage of the race and once again put time into all his rivals, while Sky’s Richie Porte dropped from second overall to 16th after a disastrous day in which he came home 27th and 8min 48sec behind the winner.
Porte admitted he had struggled with the searing heat as temperatures reached around 35 degrees Celsius.
“I don’t think I dealt with the heat very well. It’s one of those things. It’s a massive shame but we’ll see what happens tomorrow,” said Porte.
“I feel more for my team-mates who have been brilliant for me every day. If it happens to me it can happen to other guys too. We’ll just keep on pushing.”
With Porte now more than 11 minutes behind Nibali, and almost seven off a podium place, Brailsford said it was unrealistic to go for a top position but stage wins remained a realistic goal.
“It was a day when we didn’t win and when you have days like that you must keep your dignity, try to limit the damage and say well done to the others, Nibali and the French.”
Brailsford denied Porte had cracked under the pressure of leading the team in Froome’s absence.
“It will be difficult now but we have to fight nonetheless.
“I honestly don’t think it was the pressure.
“Let’s see how the next few days go, we can look to animate the race as much as we can and let’s go from there.”
Froome, 29, would have been Sky’s leader but he crashed out with a broken hand and wrist on the fifth stage.
He was dominant last year but Brailsford believes Nibali, who is in total command of this race, would have run him close.
“It was a blow losing Chris, when you think we were coming here to try and win the race and certainly seeing how Nibali’s been going it would have been an interesting race, that’s for sure.
“Having to recalibrate to our plan B as it were, and now having to recalibrate again, we’ve just got to take stock of the situation and not get too downbeat because there’s still a lot of racing to go.”
While Nibali stretched his lead out to 3:37 over Alejandro Valverde, a pair of young French riders moved into the next two places.
Romain Bardet is third at 4:24 with Thibaut Pinot fourth at 4:40.
They look set not only to fight each other for the young rider’s white jersey, but perhaps also for a place on the final podium.