Tour de France stage 7 – Nibali bids to defend lead

The Tour de France moves on to stage seven on Friday, with Yellow jersey holder Vincenzo Nibali, hoping he can stay out of trouble, with some tough stages to come. Here's a video preview of the 234km race.

Tour de France stage 7 - Nibali bids to defend lead
Stage Seven of the Tour de France will see the peloton head from Epernay to Nancy. Photo: Le

Vincenzo Nibali is preparing himself for the inevitable attacks he will face once the Tour de France reaches the Vosges.

Once Friday's mammoth, but almost entirely flat 234.5km stage from Epernay to Nancy is behind them, Nibali's rivals will start eyeing the bumpy Vosges stages and look for the the chance, perhaps, to snatch back some valuable seconds on the race leader.

As soon as Saturday's 161km run from Tomblaine to Gerardmer reaches its bumpy finish, that's where the attacks are likely to come.

With a complicated and chaotic first week behind them, Nibali is sitting pretty on a lead of more than two minutes on almost all his GC rivals.

And wearing the yellow jersey has been a blessing for the 29-year-old Sicilian, who rides for Astana.

"For sure the jersey gives me great energy but at the moment I'm just trying to ride in the best way I can. The yellow jersey is something extra," he said.

"For the climbing stages this could be an advantage in terms of the management of stage after stage. We'll see, I'm calm because fortunately the stages have gone very well.

"(Thursday) there were also a lot of crashes and you only need someone to slip in front of you and you could crash, like what happened to Chris (Froome).

"I'm sorry he had to abandon the Tour. There are things that scare you, like your rivals but I still have a good advantage and I must defend it and, if possible, take more time."

Although it won't have been ear-marked as one of the stages to gain considerable time, the succession of two second category climbs followed by a short but brutal third category (1.8km at 10.3 percent) ascent to the finish of Saturday's stage eight will encourage the likes of Alberto Contador to attack.

The last 26km include around 12km of climbing after 135km of pancake flat terrain.

Contador is 18th at 2min 37sec and needs to gain seconds wherever he can.

That's not likely to happen on Friday's stage seven, though, as the epic stage is mostly flat, despite two little fourth category climbs right at the end.

Depending on the various teams' tactics, that could result in the top sprinters being distanced on the tough 1.3km final ascent that has an average 7.9 percent gradient.

Thereafter there are only 5.5km to go downhill to the finish line so it likely wouldn't be enough to claw back anything more than a handful of seconds.

If the likes of Marcel Kittel, with three stage wins already this Tour, or Thursday's sixth stage winner Andre Greipel don't make it over that bump with the leaders, then the stage could be set for green jersey wearer Peter Sagan.

The Slovak has been the most consistent performer this Tour, finishing second twice, fourth three times and fifth once in the six stages, yet he hasn't won one yet.

If the main sprint competition is distanced, this could be his big opportunity.

"If I look back to the stages we've done, I have two different feelings. I have a good advantage in the green points classification, I finished always in the front," said Sagan.

"On the other side, this is not my first Tour de France, it's the third experience, and my aim is to do better and improve year by year.

"I had the chance to take the yellow jersey and I always get close to winning. Even (Thursday) I wanted to sprint but I had no luck.

"It's a little frustrating, maybe sometimes I ask too much to myself. But now I just want to keep concentrated and to try again."

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Tour de France: Italian Nibali tightens grip

Italian Vincenzo Nibali won stage 18 of the Tour de France on Thursday to put him within touching distance of winning the overall race. By winning his fourth stage Nibali extended his lead over Frenchman Thibaut Pinot to more than seven minutes.

Tour de France: Italian Nibali tightens grip
Italian Vincenzo Nibali wins stage 18 to tighten grip on Tour de France title. Photo: AFP

Vincenzo Nibali confirmed his supremacy at the Tour de France with his fourth stage victory on Thursday.

The 29-year-old Italian won the 18th stage from Pau to the top of the Hautacam climb after 144.5km of mountainous terrain in the Pyrenees.

In doing so the Astana rider increased his overall lead to 7min 10sec ahead of Frenchman Thibaut Pinot, who was second on the stage at 1:10.

Pole Rafal Majka, the winner of two mountain stages, was third at 1:12 to secure victory in the King of the Mountains competition

Jean-Christophe Peraud made it two Frenchmen on the podium as he came home fourth at 1:15.

The 37-year-old is just 13sec behind Pinot and 2sec ahead of Alejandro Valverde, who had started the day second.

It means three riders are separated by just 15sec in the battle for second place, which should be decided on Saturday in the 54km time trial.

Although Pinot, 24, is second, he is widely regarded as the weakest of the three against the clock.

American Tejay Van Garderen came home fifth in the same time as Peraud to boost his chances of finishing in the top five overall.

He is sixth and trails 23-year-old Frenchman Romain Bardet by just over two minutes but the American is a far better timetriallist.

Yet Thursday's stage was all about Nibali's total domination as once again he gave a demonstration in the mountains

When he made his attack with 10km of climbing ahead he ate into loan leader  Mikel Nieve's advantage in no time and then simply rode away, gradually and steadily increasing the gap with every kilometre.

Preview: Thursday's unforgiving 144.5km stage 18 includes the behemoths of the Tourmalet and Hautacam mountains to climb, 

"Thursday will be a very hard day, especially after the last two days," said Spanish rider Alejandro Valverde the 34-year-old Movistar leader.

Meanwhile race leader Vincenzo Nibali even admitted he was riding within himself.

"My condition is very good and I'm ready to push right to the end but when I get to the end of a stage I'm not giving everything because I don't have to, and I've also had an eye on the next stage," said Nibali.

However, he admitted it would have been different had the best riders been there.

Reigning champion Chris Froome crashed out on the fifth stage with a broken hand and wrist while two-time former winner Alberto Contador broke his shinbone in a fall on the 10th stage on Bastille Day.

"If Chris Froome or Alberto were riding I would need to push much more but then I would also have to manage the race differently and play more of a waiting game," added the Astana team leader.

"When they attack they are more explosive so I would have to be careful.

"I have a lot of respect for these riders."

Here's a video preview of the stage from Global Cycling Network.