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Team Sky chief Dave Brailsford said Friday that even if reigning champion Chris Froome had still been in the Tour de France, he would have struggled to beat Vincenzo Nibali.

AFP/Kåre Dehlie Thorstad

Italian Nibali won his third stage and extended his lead, while Sky’s Richie Porte dropped from second overall to 16th after a disastrous day in the saddle in which he came home 27th and 8min 48sec behind the winner.

Sky leader Froome, 29, crashed out with a broken hand and wrist on the fifth stage. He was dominant last year but Brailsford believes Nibali, who is in total command of this race, would have run him close.

But while Porte’s overall hopes are now over, Brailsford said the team still had much to fight for.

“There’s no excuse, we’re not trying to hide or anything. You’ve got to hold your head up and get on with it, we’re not going to roll over,” he said.

“It was a blow losing Chris, when you think we were coming here to try and win the race and certainly seeing how Nibali’s been going it would have been an interesting race, that’s for sure.

“Having to recalibrate to our plan B as it were, and now having to recalibrate again, we’ve just got to take stock of the situation and not get too downbeat because there’s still a lot of racing to go. We’ve got to try and get something out of the race.”

While Nibali stretched his lead out to 3:37 over Alejandro Valverde of Spain, two young French riders moved into the next places. 

Romain Bardet is third at 4:24 with Thibaut Pinot fourth at 4:40. The pair look set to fight each other for the young rider’s white jersey and perhaps for a place on the final podium.

As for Sky, Brailsford says there are only stage victories left to hope for.

“Let’s see how the next few days go, we can look to animate the race as much as we can and let’s go from there,” he added.

“He (Porte) is disappointed and when you’re disappointed it’s not the time to start analyzing anything, just support the lad. It was just a question then of minimizing his losses and keep on going.”

Porte admitted he had struggled with the searing heat as temperatures reached around 35 degrees Celsius (95 Fahrenheit).

“I don’t think I dealt with the heat very well. It’s one of those things. It’s a massive shame but we’ll see what happens tomorrow,” said Porte.

“I feel more for my team-mates who have been brilliant for me every day. If it happens to me it can happen to other guys too. We’ll just keep on pushing.”

With Porte now more than 11 minutes behind Nibali, and almost seven off a podium place, Brailsford said it was unrealistic to go for a top position.

“It was a tough day that’s for sure, everyone saw that. It’s a shame, it was a difficult day for Richie. It was a day when we didn’t win and when you have days like that you must keep your dignity, try to limit the damage and say well done to the others, Nibali and the French.”

Brailsford denied Porte had cracked under the pressure of leading the team in Froome’s absence.

“It will be difficult now but we have to fight nonetheless. I honestly don’t think it was the pressure, maybe it was the heat, but it was hot for everyone and it’s no excuse,” said the team chief.