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FOIX, France (Reuters) - Fabio Aru kept his composure and the overall lead in an eventful 13th stage of the Tour de France on Friday, but the Italian can only count on himself if he is to keep the yellow jersey all the way to Paris.
While defending champion Chris Froome, second overall and six seconds behind, can rely on a strong Team Sky and third-placed Romain Bardet, 25 seconds off the pace, also has AG2R-La Mondiale team mates to count on, Aru seems exposed.
He lost Astana team mate Dario Cataldo on Wednesday after the Italian fractured his wrist in a crash and on Friday, his main lieutenant, Dane Jakob Fuglsang, dropped out as he could not bear the pain caused by a couple of minor fractures.
"Today I has to follow my main rivals in the general classification," said Aru, referring to Froome, Bardet and fourth-placed Rigoberto Uran of Colombia.
"I could not respond to every attack."
Had he had a stronger team, the Sardinian would probably not have let Froome's team mate Mikel Landa follow Alberto Contador early on and gain 1:46 - which puts the Spaniard only 1:09 adrift in the general classification and now makes him an additional threat.
"He's a very strong rider. Today's situation was special because he was a bit far down in the GC," said Aru of Landa, who started the day 2:55 off the pace.
"How are Sky going to deal with this situation (of having two potential GC contenders)? I don't know, I'll deal with it later."
Aru believes Froome is still the main threat.
"Froome remains my main rival but not the only one as the first four riders are all within 35 seconds," he said.
"Landa is here now, but today I could not follow everyone."
Sunday's 15th stage is a middle-mountain trek in the Massif Central, and it could prove a very difficult one to control for Astana, who are now down to seven men.
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Christian Radnedge