Alberto Contador and Lance Armstrong suffered shock failures in the first stage of the Criterium International on Saturday.
Spaniard Contador, who had been expected to attack in the final ascent of the 175.5-km trek, finished more than a minute behind stage winner Pierrick Fedrigo of France, his face a mask of pain as he crossed the line.
‘It was an allergy, he just could not breathe well in the final climb and he opted to finish safely’, Astana team manager Yvon Sanquer told Reuters.
‘He is not exactly in a very good mood but it will be fine.’
Contador's fierce rival Armstrong, seven-times the Tour de France champion, finished almost five minutes behind Fedrigo after being unable to keep up with the main pack's pace in the 14.2-km final climb.
Spectators lining the road up to the Col de l'Ospedale, with a bird's-eye view of the sunbathed Porto Vecchio bay, looked stunned as the American struggled on the ascent.
‘My day was not very spectacular,’ a sweaty Armstrong, wearing a towel wrapped around his neck, told reporters with a smile.
Armstrong's RadioShack team mate Tiago Machado of Portugal finished second, with Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez of Spain coming home third.
‘It was a good day for the team since we had some guys up front,’ added Armstrong.
Fedrigo will wear the overall leader's yellow jersey in Sunday's second stage, a 75-km ride around Porto Vecchio.