Four-time champion Chris Froome cracked in the feared 17th stage of the Tour de France through the Pyrenees on Wednesday, solidifying Sky teammate Geraint Thomas' hold on the yellow jersey.
Colombian climber Nairo Quintana won the short but extremely difficult mountainous stage with a solo attack up the brutal finishing climb to Col du Portet.
Quintana, a three-time podium finisher in the Tour, finished 28 seconds ahead of Irish rider Dan Martin, while Thomas crossed third, 47 seconds back.
Froome finished eighth, 1:35 behind, and dropped from second to third overall, a distant 2 minutes, 31 seconds behind Thomas.
Tom Dumoulin moved up to second, 1:59 behind Thomas, the Welsh rider who is seeking his first Grand Tour victory.
“Thomas has been the strongest, and that's the situation now,” Dumoulin said. “For me, so far it has not been possible to gain time on him.”
Froome is attempting to match the Tour record of five victories shared by Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain. But he appeared to be close to conceding this title attempt.
“We just got to look after [Thomas] now,” Froome said. “I've won the last three Grand Tours and G's ridden an absolutely faultless race this year, so he fully deserves to be in the yellow jersey, and fingers crossed he finishes it off and gets the job done in Paris.”
Froome was first put in difficulty when Primoz Roglic attacked with 2.5 kilometers to go, and then was dropped for good when Dumoulin accelerated at the 2K banner.
While Thomas followed Dumoulin, Froome quickly lost ground and had to be escorted up the rest of the way by Colombian teammate Egan Bernal, who kept turning around to check on his team leader.
Sticking his tongue out in apparent exhaustion, it was a strong signal that Froome has reached his limit after winning the last three Grand Tours — the Tour and Spanish Vuelta last year and the Giro d'Italia in May.
Froome also had to deal with the pressure of an asthma drug case over the last nine months. He was cleared of doping five days before the Tour.
There were no reported security issues a day after police used tear gas to disperse a farmers' protest that had blocked the road with bales of hay.