Defending champion Cadel Evans said he won't give up his battle for the yellow jersey despite slipping further down the Tour de France hierarchy.
"Every time I lose time and the further I slip back the chances of the win are diminished but we're still in with a chance, and for that reason I'm not going to give up," Evans said at the start of the 12th stage Friday.
Two days after losing nearly two minutes to race leader Bradley Wiggins in the stage nine time trial, Evans suffered a first big setback in the mountains when he lost 1min 26sec to the Briton on the 'Queen' stage in the Alps. From sitting second at 1:53 behind Wiggins, Evans dropped two places to fourth to start the 12th stage 3:19 behind the Team Sky leader.
Evans launched an audacious bid to attack Sky and Wiggins 60 km from the finish on Thursday's 11th stage, before being brought to heel and then paying for his efforts 5 km from the summit finish of La Toussuire. It was further proof of Team Sky's superiority. They have raced so fast as a team that it is near impossible for rivals to attack and, crucially, sustain their efforts on the flat or the climbs.
Yet is was also clear Evans simply didn't have the legs on the day. "I wasn't at the level that I needed to be, and paid for it in the end," he admitted.
"It's frustrating. Fortunately, that's behind us now and hopefully that will be the last of the disappointments of this Tour."
Although nine stages remain, few will allow Evans to close his gap to Wiggins - unless the Englishman suffers the stage racer's biggest fear of an off-day or, worse, a crash. While there are several climbing stages left, only one - stage 17 - is a mountaintop finish.
Evans, however, remains defiant.
"There's nine days of racing to go, hard racing. I still think we're going to see some changes and the elimination of one of the contenders," he said.
The Pyrenees are up next, but already Evans is looking ahead to the final time trial over 53.5 km on the penultimate stage 19.
"The Alps are certainly no walk in the park but the Pyrenees aren't easy and then there's the long time trial at the end there," he added. "Anyone who's got anything left in the tank there can make a really big difference, looking at the results from the first time trial."
On stage nine's 41.5 km race against the clock, Wiggins dominated the field to beat Evans by 1:53, with teammate Chris Froome in second at 35sec.
At the start of stage 12, Froome sat second overall at 2:05 behind Wiggins and 18sec ahead of Italian contender Vincenzo Nibali. The chances of a Sky one-two in Paris are real, and Evans added: "The guys to beat, or try and get close to even, are certainly the Sky guys. But there's still a lot racing to be done. You have to look forward with optimism, otherwise you've got no chance