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TOUR DE FRANCE 2014

Tour de France: Norway’s Kristoff wins stage 12

Norwegian rider Alexander Kristoff won stage 12 of the Tour de France on Thursday after an exciting finish to the 185.5km ride from Bourg-en-Bresse to Saint Etienne (see video).

Tour de France: Norway's Kristoff wins stage 12
Norwegian rider Alexander Kristoff wins stage 12 of the Tour de France. Photo: Jeff Pachoud/AFP

Norway's Alexander Kristoff won the 185.5km 12th stage of the Tour de France after a sprint finish in Saint-Etienne on Thursday.

Peter Sagan took second on a stage for the fourth time this Tour without winning one, while young French sprinter Arnaud Demare was third.

Italian Vincenzo Nibali maintained the leader's yellow jersey after finishing safely in the peloton.

Another undulating stage which started in Bourg-en-Bresse in baking conditions proved something of a lull before the expected fireworks of Friday's first Alpine stage.

A five-man breakaway spent most of the day in front but was gradually whittled down to just Australian Simon Clarke.

He was caught by Frenchmen Cyril Gautier and Perrig Quemeneur with 20km left but they were all reeled in with 5km to go.

Sagan's Cannondale team took over the pace-setting duties in a bid to finally drag their team leader to a stage victory after eight top-10 finishes in the first 11 stages.

Several top sprinters had been shelled out the back of the field on the lumpy terrain leading up to the finish, making Sagan and German John Degenkolb amongst the favourites for sprint victory.

But following his win at Milan-San Remo back in March, Kristoff gained his second major success of the season.

And for Sagan, it was once again back to the drawing board as he looks for a first win this Tour having won four over the previous two editions.

French hopes are high

The 101st edition of the Tour de France is turning into a memorable one for the host nation.

Tony Gallopin won Wednesday's 11th stage from Besancon to Oyonnax after 187.5km of racing to add to Blel Kadri's success on Saturday's eighth stage.

Gallopin also wore the coveted leader's yellow jersey on Bastille Day on Monday after his strong finish the day before stripped Italian Vincenzo Nibali of the jersey for only the second day during this Tour.

What's more, there remain four Frenchmen in the top eight and three of those are aged 26 and under, meaning they probably have their best years ahead of them.

Perhaps the brightest prospect, 23-year-old Romain Bardet, sits fourth at 3:01 behind Nibali and holds the top young rider's white jersey.

French newspaper L'Equipe on Wednesday suggested Bardet, sixth-placed Thibaut Pinot, 24, and eighth-placed Jean-Christophe Peraud, 34, that this could be their best ever chance to win the Tour.

But Bardet said it's too early for him.

"It's my second Tour, I'll take it as it goes. Maybe in the next few years there's no reason I can't finish on the podium but this year it could be a bit difficult," he said.

But with Gallopin, who is fifth overall but does not have the climbing ability to stay in the top 10 once the race hits the Alps on Saturday, leading the way in terms of grabbing the headlines, Bardet says French cycling fans can expect a lot from the new breed.

"It's true that it's a very good Tour for the new generation of French riders," he said.

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TOUR DE FRANCE 2014

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.

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