COL DU GALIBIER, France (Reuters) - Alberto Contador said winning a fourth Tour de France title this year was now "impossible" after he cracked in the final ascent of Thursday's 18th stage won by Andy Schleck.
The 28-year-old Spaniard finished 3 minutes and 50 seconds behind the stage winner, who is now poised to reach the top of the podium in Paris after finishing runner-up to Contador in the last two editions.
Contador, seventh overall, trails France's Thomas Voeckler by 4:44 with Schleck just 15 seconds behind the leader.
"Victory is impossible now. I had a bad day," the Spaniard said.
"My legs did not respond and I suffered an incredible collapse. It was a very hard day from the start."
Contador did not respond to Schleck's attack 60 kilometers from the finish as the peloton was confident they could reel in the Luxembourg rider in the valley leading to the final climb.
They did not and Australian Cadel Evans launched the pursuit in the ascent to the Col du Galibier to limit the damage with Contador, who had to take an analgesic for the pain in his right knee, cracking with just less than two kilometers left.
"Andy played his cards in an intelligent way. He got team mates into the breakaway and he rode a great stage. Congratulations to him,added Contador, who is unbeaten in all the grand Tours he has entered since 2007.
"I did not expect this but I'm used to different situations. Now I am thinking about resting. I am exhausted and thinking about tomorrow now."
Friday's 19th stage is a short, punchy ride to the top of the famous Alpe d'Huez.
(Editing by Justin Palmer; To query or comment on this story email email@example.com)