Photo: Yuzuru Sunada
Robert Gesink's yellow jersey hopes suffered a blow as the Tour de France peloton completed the first of two consecutive days in the hilly Massif Central Saturday.
The Rabobank climbing ace has come into the three-week epic hoping for a podium place following a sixth place finish behind Spain's Alberto Contador in 2010. However a lower back injury suffered in a crash on Wednesday has left team bosses wondering whether he will last the race and pondering their future strategy.
As the peloton upped the pace during the 189 km eighth stage from Aigurande to Super-Besse ski station, Gesink struggled to keep pace. Helped throughout the stage by teammates, he eventually finished 1min 23sec down on stage winner Alberto Rui Costa of Portugal, and 1:08 behind the rest of the yellow jersey challengers led home by Australian Cadel Evans.
Having started the day 10th overall at just 20secs behind race leader Thor Hushovd of Norway, a disappointed-looking Gesink is now 17th at 1:28.
"The Tour de France is hard enough, but when you have to race it with injuries it's even tougher," said the Dutchman. "When the peloton increased the pace I just couldn't produce what was needed to hang on. I'm still in a lot of pain and am not racing with the level I'm used to.
"It's not fun to ride the Tour de France like this." Gesink's only consolation is he did enough to keep the white jersey for the best placed rider aged 25 and under.
In that competition he leads Estonian Rein Taaramae of Cofidis by 59secs.