Vincenzo Nibali says he did not have legs to contend on final climb of Tour's stage 8

MÛR-DE-BRETAGNE, France (AFP) — Reigning Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) said he the lacked the legs to hang in with the lead group on the final climb of Saturday’s eighth Tour de France stage.

The 30-year-old Italian lost contact with the lead bunch on the 2km climb to the finish at Mûr-de-Bretagne with its average gradient of 6.9 percent.

He gave up another 10 seconds to race leader Chris Froome (Sky), the man he succeeded as Tour champion last year, and now sits 13th overall, 1:48 behind Froome.

“I had a bad day. I felt good at the beginning of the stage but at the end, I couldn’t feel anything anymore, I didn’t have any legs anymore,” said the Astana team leader.

Nibali will have another chance to claw back some time in Sunday’s team time trial before Monday’s rest day and then the start of major hostilities in the mountains on Tuesday.

While Froome has been in excellent form and showing his strength every day, his main rivals for the yellow jersey have all had their struggles.

Nairo Quintana (Movistar) is even further behind than Nibali at 1:56 in 16th, though Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) is seventh, just 36 seconds back.

“Finally! I’ve finished the first part of the Tour and avoided any crashes. Tomorrow it will be full gas in the team time trial,” said Contador, a two-time former Tour winner.

Quintana’s Movistar teammate Alejandro Valverde said the Tour starts now for his team and leader.

“There’s a serious test for all of us tomorrow with the TTT; for our team, the ‘real Tour’ is starting on Sunday,” said the Spaniard, who was fourth overall last year.

“We went through many difficult days so far, other ones where we had to fight a bit less, but the terrain most suiting us starts now.

“Let’s hope we can finish up there tomorrow. We’re really strong at the moment, all the nine of us, and we hope to profit from that form tomorrow.”