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Tour de France stage 17: Pole Rafal Majka wins

AFP/The Local · 23 Jul 2014, 16:00

Published: 23 Jul 2014 16:00 GMT+02:00

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Young Pole Rafal Majka climbed to his second mountain stage victory of the Tour de France on Wednesday.

Having already triumphed in the Alps, the Tinkoff-Saxo rider added a Pyrenean stage to his ledger with victory on the 124.5km 17th stage from Saint-Gaudens to Saint-Lary.

Italian Giovanni Visconti was second with race leader Vincenzo Nibali taking third as he extended his overall advantage to Spaniard Alejandro Valverde to almost 5min 30sec.

The battle for a podium place also took another twist as veteran Jean-Christophe Peraud rolled over the line fourth in the same time as Nibali and closed to just 8sec behind Thibaut Pinot, who retained third overall, but is now exactly six minutes behind the Italian leader.

Majka's victory was his second in five days and Tinkoff-Saxo's third in the last four stages.

The 24-year-old Pole had already triumphed Saturday at the Risoul ski station in the Alps while Australian Michael Rogers won Tuesday's first Pyrenean stage in Bagneres-de-Luchon.

It means the Russian-owned team have gone some way to making up for the loss of leader Alberto Contador to a broken shinbone on Bastille Day.

Majka was part of a large breakaway group that arrived on the final of four tough categorised climbs with 14 riders.

Visconti made a break for home but once Majka set off after him he looked clearly the stronger.

And so it proved as he accelerated away in the final 2km, also doing enough to retain the polkadot king of the mountains jersey that he had taken off Joaquim Rodriguez on Tuesday.

PREVIEW of stage: Tour de France leader Vincenzo Nibali played down suggestions he had finally cracked ahead of Wednesday's fearsome 17th stage in the Pyrenees.

The day before Nibali had been slightly distanced by young French climber Thibaut Pinot as the leaders crested the Port de Bales before a 20km descent to the finish.

Pinot himself said Nibali had let him go because he knew he would catch him on the descent, the Italian being known as the best descender in the peloton while the Frenchman openly admits it's his weakness.

Astana's Nibali said he was more concerned with Movistar's Alejandro Valverde, who is second in the overall standings at 4min 37sec.

"On the climb Movistar pushed it on and the man to control was Valverde because he can also do damage on the descent," said the 29-year-old.

"Pinot sprinted clear at the top but I was getting some sugars on board, it was nothing, I was in control."

Nibali also suggested he had been caught out in the wrong position when Pinot, who moved up to third overall at 5:06 with his strong showing, kicked at the top of the hill.

And he insisted he hadn't overlooked the potential danger Pinot could pose.

"I certainly am not underestimating anyone, I learnt that last year at the Vuelta (a Espana where he lost out to outsider Chris Horner).

"I was the one to close Pinot down in the last kilometre when he attacked and Valverde had left a gap.

"I tried to keep everything under control and I was also thinking about the race in next few days. Many people used a lot of energy and that showed in their legs."

Wednesday's 17th stage is just 124.5km, compared with the 237.5km trek on Tuesday, and includes three first category climbs before the hors category finish to Saint-Lary-Soulan.

Nibali says that will make it much tougher than Tuesday's stage.

"(Tuesday's) was relatively tranquil but then exploded at the end. (Wednesday's) is much shorter but much more intense.

"It could be difficult and maybe many riders used a lot of energy (Tuesday).

"We (Astana) will try to manage things day by day like we've been doing since the second stage. We've done well until now and we'll continue to try to do so."

Story continues below…

Pinot may have gained time on the likes of Romain Bardet and Tejay Van Garderen on Tuesday, but he's expecting a reaction on Wednesday.

"It will be a very short and nervous stage and I expect my rivals to attack me," he said.

AG2R have the next two in the standings behind Pinot, Frenchmen Jean-Christophe Peraud, fourth at 1:02 behind Pinot, and Bardet who is fifth another 32sec further back.

But it is Peraud and Van Garderen, who dropped to more than 4min behind Pinot after a dreadful day in the first Pyrenean stage, who most worry Pinot because of their timetrialling capabilities.

"I need to gain more time. I put time into Romain and Van Garderen but I need to get more time on Peraud," said Pinot.

Bardet was the big surprise on Tuesday after looking strong in the Alps.

He cracked on the final climb but said he's hoping to bounce back quickly.

"I lost a battle but there are still two great (Pyrenean) stages to come," he said.

"Maybe (Wednesday) I'll have more freedom on a stage that suits me a lot. I hope to have better legs than (Tuesday)."

AFP/The Local (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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