Alberto Contador admitted on Thursday that his hopes of a podium finish are slim at the Tour de France after enduring what he called one of the toughest days of his career.

AFP/Yuzuru Sunada

The 32-year-old Spaniard is fifth overall, 6min 40sec behind race leader Chris Froome, but crucially also 2min 31sec behind third-placed Alejandro Valverde.

Contador tried to animate Thursday’s 18th stage with a long-range attack on the 21km Col du Glandon, which peaked 39km from the finish of the 186.5km stage from Gap to Saint Jean de Maurienne.

But he couldn’t get a significant gap and was caught on the descent of the Glandon.

And suffering the after-effects of his crash on the descent of the Col d’Allos on Wednesday, Contador admitted he’d had a torrid day in the saddle.

“I’ve just had one of the toughest days of my entire life on a bike,” said the former two-time Tour winner.

“I wanted to try something and drop Alejandro on the Glandon but it was more of an attack with the heart than with the legs.

“It will be almost impossible for the podium to escape Alejandro’s grasp.  “It would need for something dramatic to happen, but we’ll see day by day.”

Although Froome’s Sky teammate Geraint Thomas is currently fourth, he’s riding for his team leader and Valverde sees Contador as the threat to his podium place.

“Alberto and I are both having a great Tour and fighting for a podium finish,” said the 35-year-old Spaniard.

“There’s the right spice for a race between two riders in two different teams.”

Froome himself thinks the dual challenge facing the Movistar team — between defending the second and third places of Nairo Quintana and Valverde, and attacking the yellow jersey — could work in his favor. 

“I can really see the race developing with lots of races within races,” said the 30-year-old Briton.

“Guys a lot further back in the general classification are attacking and those in sixth, seventh and eighth position are having to do a lot of the chasing and committing men to bring back the breakaway.

“We (Sky) are concentrating on the two guys: Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde. If anyone else attacks its their (Movistar’s) responsibility to protect their podium positions.”

– Yellow priority –

Froome won three stages on the 2013 Tour when he became champion and with two summit finishes in Alpine stages to come, he has a great opportunity to add to his one stage win so far this time around. But he says his focus is on keeping hold of the yellow jersey rather than fighting for stage wins.

“At this point Movistar may be thinking about a stage victory or they could really try to put me under pressure on the final climb these next two days,” he added.

“For me it would be amazing to win another stage but at the same time my priority is yellow.”

“I’m not going to kill my teammates chasing a breakaway unless Valverde or Quintana is in it.”

Valverde had briefly been distanced on the Gladon climb and Quintana said he had tempered his own pace to allow his teammate to recover.

But the 25-year-old Colombian said things would be different on the next two days’ summit finishes.

“Alejandro had a little crisis and we had to be a little calmer to give him the chance to recover,” said Quintana.

“Today we needed to be a bit quieter as it was a stage where you couldn’t really gain any time.

“For me it’s really important to have Alejandro close by, he’s always helping me by closing down gaps to our rivals.

“But tomorrow we’ll race in a different way.”