By Julien Pretot
CHAMROUSSE France (Reuters) - After winning the last two editions of the Tour de France, Team Sky's last hopes of a hat-trick melted on the first Alpine stage when Richie Porte cracked in the heat on Friday.
The Australian rider, promoted to team leader after Britain's Chris Froome crashed out in the first week, gradually moved down the yellow jersey group before losing contact.
The Tasmanian never made it back and lost 8 minutes 48 seconds, dropping from second to 16th overall, 11:11 behind Italian Vincenzo Nibali, who won the 13th stage after dropping all his rivals on the 18.2-km climb to Chamrousse.
"Maybe it's the heat but that's not an excuse," Team Sky manager Dave Brailsford, who led Bradley Wiggins and Froome to their Tour triumphs in 2012 and 2013 respectively, told reporters.
Porte was nursed to the summit by team mates Geraint Thomas and Mikel Nieve, who sacrificed their own chances of a possible top-10 finish, leaving Sky with no serious contender in the general classification (GC).
Brailsford, however, hoped his team could still be a factor in the race.
"We're not just going to roll over," he said.
"Obviously losing Chris was a blow when you're coming to win the race. We recalibrated it to our plan B and now we're going to recalibrate again."
That means that Sky are now going for stage wins - something they have not been used to having put all their eggs in the GC basket.
"We're going to take the scope of the situation and not get too downbeat and try to get something out of the race that's for sure," said Brailsford.
"We can look to animate the race as much as we can I don't think we'll just go along and follow.
"It was a tough day that's for sure, everybody saw it, it was a hard day for Richie. There are days we don't win. Chapeau (congratulations) to Nibali and the others.
"For us it's going to be difficult but we still have to continue and fight."
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Toby Davis)