Alberto Contador revealed he struggled to breathe towards the end of stage five at the Tour de France.
The Spanish Tinkoff rider finished five minutes, 40 seconds behind stage winner and general classification leader Greg Van Avermaet.
Contador is 25th overall and has had to endure crashes early in the race, with Wednesday's 216-kilometre stage from Limoges to Le Lioran proving particularly difficult.
He ended up losing 33 seconds on Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana, who are favoured to win the yellow jersey.
"It was better than I expected. I lost less time than I expected," Contador said.
"The stage was always going to be difficult and I knew that the other teams were going to make it tricky for me.
"The last part of today's stage was really tough and I just didn't find it easy to breathe."
Contador insisted his condition was improving after crashes on the opening two stages hurt his chances of a third overall victory.
"I'm feeling better than I was a few days ago. I felt pretty good towards the end of the stage," he said.
"I've worked very hard over the last months to be here in the best condition I could.
"Obviously crashes in the opening stages is not ideal, but I feel like I'm bouncing back. I also feel I've done my best and that's all I can do."