Tour de France 2014: Consistent Vincenzo Nibali sees off rivals with time to spare

'The Shark' finishes with a winning margin of nearly eight minutes after swallowing mountain stages aplenty

with the Tour de France

Vincenzo Nibali overcame his last obstacle, a 54km time trial, en route to Italy's first victory in the Tour de France since 1998 yesterday, finishing fourth behind stage winner Tony Martin of Germany.

A protracted struggle between three riders, Spain's Alejandro Valverde and Frenchmen Thibaut Pinot and Jean-Christophe Péraud, for the right to stand next to Nibali on the Paris podium was finally resolved yesterday, too, with veteran Péraud, despite puncturing, moving up to second and Pinot dropping a place to third.

Valverde remained in fourth as he struggled badly from general fatigue in yesterday's long time trial, plunging to 28th on the stage and finishing more than 90 seconds overall behind Pinot.

French national pride has thus been satisfied by placing two riders on the podium for the first time since 1984. As for Italy, bereft of top Tour de France contenders in recent years, Nibali's victory has given the sport a much-needed boost.

"There wasn't a single day that was particularly hard. It was all about maintaining consistency," Nibali said later. "Every day was important."

"I just kept going, day by day, without thinking about the implications of what winning the Tour would mean. Today [Saturday] was very hard, for example, a very tough time trial, and it'll only be when I ride onto the Champs-Elysées that it actually will sink in I've won."

Pedal power: Vincenzo Nibali heads for fourth place in yesterday’s time trial Pedal power: Vincenzo Nibali heads for fourth place in yesterday’s time trial The Italian is his country's first Tour winner since the late Marco Pantani in 1998, and like the little "Pirat"', as he was nicknamed, the rider known as "The Shark" has gobbled up mountain stages aplenty. Nibali has taken victories in the Vosges, Alps, Pyrenees and also – post a long grind through the Peak District – Sheffield.

However, unlike Pantani, who spent the first week of the Tour he won sitting at the back of the peloton, Nibali has never been far out from the action.

His Sheffield win – "the best day of the race" he said yesterday – meant Nibali switched his Italian national champion's jersey for the yellow of race leader, and over the brutally difficult stage in northern France featuring the cobbled lanes of Paris-Roubaix, while Chris Froome crashed out, Nibali gained time on all the other favourites.

Then, after Alberto Contador's equally brutal and untimely exit in the Vosges on the same day, Nibali took another key step towards victory with a win on the painfully steep La Planche des Belles Filles climb.

With each mountain-top finish that followed – Chamrousse and Risoul in the Alps, Pla d'Adet and Hautacam in the Pyrenees – Nibali never failed to bolster his lead by another 30 or 40 seconds, and he took two more solo stage wins to boot. Assuming he does not lose time today on the largely ceremonial run through the Champs-Élysées, his winning margin of nearly eight minutes is the largest since Jan Ullrich won by more than nine minutes in 1997.

Nibali will therefore become one of a select group of only six riders in cycling history to take all three Grand Tours – the Vuelta in 2010, the Giro in 2013 and the Tour in 2014 – together with Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Felice Gimondi and Contador.

However, with both Contador and Froome crashing out, an evaluation of where the Italian truly stands in the pantheon of cycling's greats is much harder to make. His situation is similar to that of Luis Ocaña in 1973, who won the Tour in a year when the victor of the four previous events, Merckx, was missing as well as Gimondi. The result was that despite crushing the field Ocaña's race was dubbed "the Tour of Absences".

The same situation about the Tour's winner also arose in 1999, when both Ullrich and Pantani, who had triumphed in 1997 and 1998, were missing, and a certain Lance Armstrong unexpectedly dominated the race. Although later stripped of his titles because of his doping confession, on the road, at least, in 2000 Armstrong went on to beat both Pantani and Ullrich – and Nibali, at 29, will certainly be gunning to do the same next year.

Next July, though, not only will Froome and Contador hopefully manage to avoid disaster, but Nairo Quintana, second in the 2013 Tour and widely rated as the most-promising new Tour contender, is due to take part, after the Colombian missed this year's race in order to win the Giro in May.

A repeat win will, therefore, arguably be much harder. But what nobody can dispute is that as a professional since 2005, Nibali's progress towards his first Tour de France victory has been steady and (importantly given cycling's ongoing issues with doping problems) thankfully controversy-free.

Third overall in the Giro in 2010 represented his breakthrough in the Grand Tours, but Nibali's spell as leader of the Tour's Best Young Rider classification back in 2008 was the first time he showed up on the radar of cycling's showcase event. Then, in 2012, after the Italian finished third overall behind Sir Bradley Wiggins and Froome, it was clear that he remained on an upward curve.

Nibali's victory also ends Britain's domination of the overall classification for the last two years and – barring an unexpected success today – is the first time since 2007 that a UK rider has taken no stage wins. The absence of Mark Cavendish, who has won a minimum of two every year since then, has been painfully obvious. So too has Sky's failure to recover from the twin blow of losing both their overall options: Froome through a crash, and Richie Porte, the team's much-touted "Plan B", to illness.

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright and Bianca Miller in the final of The Apprentice
tvMark Wright and Bianca Miller fight for Lord Sugar's investment
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
music
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
News
i100
Extras
indybest
News
peopleLiam Williams posted photo of himself dressed as Wilfried Bony
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
The monkey made several attempts to revive his friend before he regained consciousness
video
Extras
indybest
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Analyst - Bristol

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Analyst is required to join the ...

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick