Tour de France: Vincenzo Nibali hungry for wins as French trio eye podium

The Italian enhances his lead to a near-unassailable 7mins 10secs with just three stages to go

with the tour de france

The remorseless pressure of France’s overall contenders on second-placed Alejandro Valverde finally bore fruit today as Thibaut Pinot and Jean-Christophe Péraud broke away from the Spaniard – and on to the provisional podium – on the mist-enshrouded Hautacam climb.

Vincenzo Nibali, the overall leader, came under no such challenge, blasting off for his fourth stage win of the Tour around nine kilometres (5.5 miles) from the summit and an even stronger hold on the yellow jersey.

Chris Horner, the American veteran who deprived Nibali of victory in the Vuelta last autumn, was the only one able to follow the Sicilian, and then only briefly.  After a few hundred metres, Nibali powered off alone, his yellow jersey slightly open and  his relentless pace not even faltering a little when the outstretched arm of a fan trying to take a selfie glanced against his elbow.

Accelerating hard past earlier attacker Mikel Nieve to ensure he would not be shadowed on his bid for a final stage win, with four kilometres to go the Astana rider had only the mountain  to beat. Then as the mist curled across the summit and the finish approached, Nibali thumped his hand against his team’s name on his jersey and then his right arm shot skywards – almost exactly the same gesture as when he won the last mountain stage of the Giro d’Italia last year, on the snow-enshrouded summit of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, and sealed his victory in Italy’s biggest race. This time he has netted an even more important prize.

Remarkably, Nibali has taken four road stages in the Tour: the most, if time trials are excluded, for any overall winner of the race since all time cycling great Eddy Merckx in 1974. Nibali has done it in all three sets of mountains visited by the Tour this year, too: the Vosges,  the Alps and now the Pyrenees – not to mention at Sheffield, after a long grind through the Peak District. 

 

And there was certainly an air of “the Cannibal” as the rider nicknamed “the Shark” chewed off another stage win with the most Merckx-esque of logic: because he was the strongest, and because he could.

“It was my way of thanking the team,” Nibali explained. “My squad worked so hard for me during the race, and I want to dedicate it to them.”

The Italian’s initial attack, he admitted, “had been a little early”. But his desire to crush his Vuelta rival Horner proved too much for him to resist. He said: “I had no idea of Nieve’s margin. He has been a strong rider and I didn’t want him getting too much of an advantage.” Given Nieve was over 36 minutes behind him on classification prior to today’s stage, this explanation, is, to say the least, debatable.

Nibali’s need to win, again and again, might just be  understandable in another context: for most of the Tour he has been fighting two invisible, unbeatable enemies: Chris Froome and Alberto Contador. Both of the top favourites having  crashed out and abandoned, the question remains whether Nibali could have won had they remained in the Tour. It will stay impossible to answer.

Vincenzo Nibali is set for the most stage wins barring time trials by a yellow jersey since Eddy Merckx Vincenzo Nibali is set for the most stage wins barring time trials by a yellow jersey since Eddy Merckx (EPA)
If Nibali rules supreme, the fate of Valverde, the rider who had been lying second before the stage, could not have been more different.

The Spaniard has been under attack since Tuesday’s first Pyrenean stage, when a surge by Pinot on the top of the last climb, the Port de Bales, saw the Movistar rider briefly waver. On Wednesday, it was Péraud’s chance to turn the screw a little tighter, gaining 50 seconds. But Valverde still clung onto second overall, albeit by a handful of seconds.

Halfway up the 13km Hautacam, the final major ascent of the Tour, the two Frenchman joined forces to ease away from the Spaniard, and for Valverde, the combination proved almost fatal.

Unaided by his team – unlike on Wednesday, when a succession of Movistar riders had kept the Spaniard in contact with Pinot – Valverde was left to hammer away up the climb at the head of a group of four or five rivals. He crossed the line 49 seconds behind Pinot, in fourth overall behind the two Frenchmen, and with an overall margin of 15 seconds now separating the three riders closest behind Nibali.

The peloton sets off through the streets of Pau at the start of yesterday’s 18th stage The peloton sets off through the streets of Pau at the start of yesterday’s 18th stage (EPA)
“It was very tough, but I kept the gap at 30 or 40 seconds for most of the climb but then it got very windy,” Valverde said. “My body was right on the limit.”

While it is now certain that at least one French rider will finish on the podium in the Tour for the first time in 17 years, Valverde is adamant he can still stop it from being two – by overhauling the French again in the final time trial in Bergerac tomorrow.

“It’s all to play for,” Valverde – Spain’s national time-trial champion – insisted. “Before I was ahead, now it’s them. But that can change on Saturday.”

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future