Tour de France: Nibali takes hold after Alps win

Yellow jersey holder Vincenzo Nibali extended his lead over the rest of the pack after winning stage 13 of the Tour de France on Friday. The Italian reigned supreme on the first day of riding in the Alps leaving his rivals trailing in his wake.

Tour de France: Nibali takes hold after Alps win
Italian rider Vincenzo Nibali tightens his grip on the Tour de France after a superb performance inthe Alps on Frida. Photo: Eric Fefferberg/AFP

Vincenzo Nibali tightened his grip on the 2014 Tour de France by riding away to his third stage victory on the 197.5km, 13th stage from Saint-Etienne to Chamrousse on Friday.

Nibali attacked 6.6km from home and put almost a minute into nearest rival Alejandro Valverde, who finished fourth on the stage but moved up to second overall.

Rafal Majka was second on the stage with Leopold Konig third while Australian Richie Porte, who started the stage second overall, cracked on the final climb to drop down the order.

Nibali proved he is simply too strong for the rest on a day when his Astana team looked vulnerable, with chief lieutenant Jakob Fuglsang crashing on a descent and Michele Scarponi struggling and dropping away on the penultimate climb.

But the Italian didn't need anyone, responding first to an attack by Valverde on the final uncategorised climb and then riding away from the Spaniard.

He caught Majka and Konig before leaving them in his wake in the final 3km to win by 10sec.

Valverde came in 50sec after the 29-year-old to drop to 3:37 behind the leader.

Young Frenchman Romain Bardet moved up to third at 4:24 after finishing the stage seventh, just 1:23 behind Nibali.

It allowed him to keep hold of the young rider's white jersey ahead of Thibaut Pinot, who is up to fourth at 4:40.

But the big loser was Porte who came over the line almost nine minutes after Nibali and dropped right out of the top 10, now more than 11 minutes off the pace.

STAGE 13 PREVIEW: Tour de France leader Vincenzo Nibali admitted he is wary of the apparent calm that has settled around his lead in the Grand Boucle.

Friday sees the peloton head into the Alps with a 197.5km 13th stage from Saint-Etienne to Chamrousse, including two brutal climbs at the end.

Nibali has been comfortably in control of the Tour since taking the leader's yellow jersey on the second stage with a daring solo escape.

He lost it last Sunday to Frenchman Tony Gallopin, but only for 24 hours before his victory on Monday's tough mountainous stage saw him don the jersey once again.

The Sicilian leads Australian Richie Porte by 2min 23sec with Alejandro Valverde of Spain third at 2:47.

But although he has not lost a single second to any of his overall rivals on any stage, Nibali says he cannot afford to take his eye off the ball ahead of the next two Alpine stages.

"There are still a lot of stages left to the end and we all know that every day there can be another surprise," he said.

"There are top class rivals such as Porte and Valverde who are the closest. 

Certainly, Nibali is more worried about that finish in Risoul than Friday's.

"I haven't done reconnaissance at these climbs. The one I fear more is the second stage because the first day you have more energy but the second requires more effort and takes more out of you.

"We will try to manage it with the team, we've had good days and we'll try to control things.

"It won't be easy for sure, people will attack me but I'll try to defend the yellow jersey and if I can take some seconds, I will try that."

Even so, the 13th stage cannot be underestimated as it ends with a first category ascent and then the uncategorised summit finish.

There are 138km before the 14.1km first category Col de Palaquit climb with an average gradient of 6.1 percent.

What makes that climb particularly difficult is the frequent changes in steepness ranging from 3 percent to 11.7 percent.

The hors category climb to Chamrousse is 18.2km long with a brutal 7.3 percent average but more consistent in its difficulty, although first half is slightly tougher.

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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.