Vincenzo Nibali proved once again he has no serious rivals in the Tour de France when he powered to victory in the final mountain stage yesterday, all but securing his maiden title in impressive fashion.
The Italian, looking to become the sixth man to win all three grand tours, snatched his fourth stage win by easing away from the group of favourites early in the final ascent to Hautacam, a 13.6-kilometre climb at an average gradient of 7.8 per cent.
France’s Thibaut Pinot was second, 1min 10secs behind, and Poland’s Rafal Majka finished third, two seconds further back, to secure the polka dot jersey for the mountain classification.
Pinot is now second overall, 7:10 behind Nibali with another Frenchman, Jean-Christophe Peraud, in third at 7:23 off the pace. Spain’s Alejandro Valverde could not respond to Pinot’s attack and slipped to fourth overall, 7:25 behind Nibali.
“We worked to control the breakaway. I felt very well but I did not remember it was so hard in the final part of the climb,” said Nibali.
“Vincenzo wanted to show he is the boss. He really wanted to in that stage. Congratulations to the whole team. He finished it off nicely,” said team manager Alexandre Vinokourov.
Only a crash or a disaster in tomorrow’s final time trial can prevent Astana rider Nibali from adding to his 2010 Vuelta and 2013 Giro d’Italia titles. Pinot, Peraud and Valverde are likely to fight for the remaining places on the podium.
“Second place is only provisional, I can still finish just outside of the podium,” said Pinot, who at 24 has already two top 10 finishes in grand tours.
Nibali’s only scare on the 18th stage, a 145.5-km trek from Pau, came when he hit a careless spectator on the side of the road on the final ascent.
France’s Blel Kadri and Spain’s Mikel Nieve were the strongest of the morning’s breakaway and reached the foot of Hautacam with a 1:30 lead on the favourites’ group but it was never going to be enough.
Earlier, Valverde went ahead in the descent from the iconic Col du Tourmalet, looking to catch a couple of team-mates to help him in the first slopes of Hautacam.
One of this Movistar team-mates, though, was disqualified from the race for taking shelter behind his team car too often. Valverde and company were reined in by the end of the descent as all the favourites regrouped. Nieve dropped Kadri early in the climb and Nibali started his show, joining Chris Horner on the attack before leaving the Vuelta champion behind. He sped past Nieve and never looked back.
Today’s stage is the 208.5km route from Maubourguet Pays du Val d’Adour to Bergerac and is expected to suit the sprinters.