Thibaut Pinot said he was hoping for a better day on Thursday when the Tour de France scales the behemoths of the Tourmalet and Hautacam Pyrenean mountains.
The 24-year-old Frenchman hung onto his third place in the overall standings by a fistful of seconds from veteran compatriot Jean-Christophe Peraud after failing to match the latter's pace on Wednesday's final climb to Saint-Lary.
Pinot had been the animater in Tuesday's first Pyrenean stage when he took third place from another compatriot, 23-year-old Romain Bardet, Peraud's AG2R teammate, but he said Wednesday was about damage limitation.
"It's not been a good day for me. I felt a bit less good today and I had to limit the damage," said the FDJ leader.
"I felt it right from the beginning that it wasn't a good day. Perhaps I paid for my efforts from yesterday.
"I hope I'll have better legs tomorrow. The Tourmalet and Hautacam are big mountains."
Peraud was the only rider of the leading six to follow yellow jersey wearer Vincenzo Nibali in the final 5km of Wednesday's 124.5km stage from Saint-Gaudens.
The 37-year-old took 49sec out of second placed Alejandro Valverde and 54sec out of Pinot, Bardet and American Tejay Van Garderen.
It left Nibali leading Valverde by 5:26 with Pinot third at 6:00 but now just 8sec ahead of Peraud.
Bardet is fifth at 7:34 while Van Garderen's podium hopes look pretty slim as he sits 10:19 behind the runaway leader.
Pinot says he still needs another big day in the mountains if he is to finish on the podium in Paris as he expects to lose time to both Peraud and Valverde in Saturday's 54km timetrial.
"I need a good minute's advantage over Peraud and Valverde ahead of the timetrial," he said.
"Nothing's decided for the podium and that's great for the suspense."
Bardet is probably the weakest timetriallist in the top six and is now likely to work to help his teammate Peraud, which will further complicate Pinot's task.
The 23-year-old had attacked on the final descent to try to make up for the 1:50 he lost on Tuesday's stage when he struggled, but although he managed to get a 30sec gap on the others, they quickly reeled him in on the final climb.
"I really wanted to make up for my difficult day yesterday," said Bardet.
"But Jean-Christophe managed to gain some time and that's a huge satisfaction.
"I managed the final climb, I didn't want to put myself into the red. When Jice (Peraud) came back, my role was to mark Pinot and Van Garderen."
Van Garderen had a dreadful day on Tuesday when he lost 3:30 to those around him, but the 25-year-old BMC team leader hasn't given up hope of a podium finish.
He's almost 5min behind Valverde and 4:19 off the podium but remains confident.
"Yesterday was a pity, it was an off day. You can't change that. You can only look ahead," said the American.
"Anything is possible. If you would have asked me a couple days ago I would have said, it is really possible. Now, yes it is possible but it will be hard."
Van Garderen did have a little dig towards the end of Wednesday's stage but he didn't manage to get a gap on Pinot or Bardet.
All three were eventually caught by Valverde, who had earlier been dropped, and the wily Spaniard even gained 5sec on them with a late dash to the line.
"I tried doing a little attack today but they are looking really strong," said Van Garderen.
"Obviously, if one of them has a bad day, I need to take advantage of it."