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.”

News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
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: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own