• Shoulders hunched, Nibali crosses the finish line with his Tour defence in tatters. (AAP)Source: AAP
Vincenzo Nibali may be the defending Tour de France champion, but his hopes of adding a second title disappeared last night as he cracked on the lower slopes of the race's first serious climb.
15 Jul 2015 - 7:40 AM  UPDATED 15 Jul 2015 - 8:20 AM

Nibali was the biggest loser on the first mountain stage, being dropped with more than 10km remaining of the 15km Le Pierre-Saint-Martin climb. He eventually crawled in more than four minutes down in 21st position on the stage.

Stage 10's time losses have effectively ended the Astana rider's yellow jersey hopes, compounding his previous time losses to put him 6min 57sec behind race leader Chris Froome (Sky) in the overall classification.

Nibali admitted that Froome 'hammered" the rest of the field.

"For sure Chris Froome hammered us badly. But we all lost time, all the favourites did: [Tejay] van Garderen, [Joaquim] Rodriguez, even [Alberto] Contador," Nibali said.

Froome wins Bastille Day battle of La Pierre-Saint-Martin
Race leader Chris Froome left no doubt as to who was in charge of the 2015 Tour de France after attacking and dropping his rivals to win the 10th stage.

Like Contador, Nibali couldn't find his legs in the heat of the Pyrenees.

“It was a difficult day. I couldn't keep the pace. I could not breathe properly. I couldn't find the right pedalling pace. It was as if I didn't have any strength left. I could hardly follow my own team-mates.

"We all thought we were better. It's going to be difficult now. Physically I feel pretty well. But I can't give anymore. I'm not the same Vincenzo Nibali as last year.”

Van Garderen passes first mountain test
BMC Racing's Tejay van Garderen cemented his position as a serious contender for the Tour de France podium as he survived Chris Froome's onslaught on Stage 10.
Quintana: Froome's stronger than all of us
Nairo Quintana may have been the best of the five main contenders on Stage 10 of the Tour de France, but even he was schooled by Sky as the road pointed up.
Contador: I couldn't breathe, and still can't
Tinkoff-Saxo leader Alberto Contador saw his dream of achieving a Giro-Tour double recede into the distance as he was left behind on the slopes of La Pierre-Saint-Martin.

The question for the Italian now is what is left for him at the Tour? Even at seven minutes down overall, he is unlikely to be allowed to go stage hunting, and short of a miraculous recovery, his general classification hopes appear dead in the water.

One tactic his team might be considering is to withdraw respectfully and prepare for September's Vuelta d'Espana instead.