SAN DIEGO, July 24, 2014 – Critics grumbling that 2014 Tour de France leader Vincenzo Nibali might not be in first place if his top rivals were still in the competition shouldn’t have anything more to say after Stage 18 Thursday.
Nibali of Team Astana blew past his rivals and made it look like they were standing still up the final climb in the Pyrenees on the Col de Hautacam, easily winning his fourth stage victory. With no need to conserve any more energy, Nibali’s strong showing should have silenced any doubters still left out there. Barring any accidents or a catastrophic time trial, with just three stages left Nibali can start celebrating his Tour win.
On a day with four significant mountain climbs, American Chris Horner of Lampre decided to test Nibali on the final climb up Hautacam, but Nibali jumped right on his wheel. Following them was Polish cyclist Rafal Majka of Tinkoff-Saxo, who needed to finish in the top sixth to keep the King of the Mountains jersey.
Nibali caught breakaway leader Mikel Nieve of Team Sky with about four miles to go and put on an impressive burst of speed that left no doubt of his conditioning and form.
Nibali said he rode the final climb up Hautacam like an uphill time trial. “”It’s fantastic to have won four stages. I didn’t believe I’d do that. There aren’t many stages till the finish now and my lead is consolidated. I’m pretty serene.”
Nibali credited the support of his team for keeping the yellow jersey all but two stages of the Tour so far. “We’ve handled the race very well so far with letting breakaway go and adjusting the lead… I came to the Tour with a good preparation and a good team. But I’m not a boss like Lance Armstrong was. Let’s leave the past behind us. I’m very clear about myself. If I have seven minutes lead, it’s not because of a great performance one day. It’s because of seconds I’ve collected here and there while my adversaries have sometimes gained something and paid the following day for their efforts. I had to deal with the pressure and understand the race. Mentally it’s been a very hard race and some riders have paid for that.”
“My first nickname as a cyclist was “The Flea of the Pyrenees” and now I’m finally winning in the Pyrenees. It was given to me by a friend of my father when I was a kid, I wasn’t big and I dropped other cyclists in the climbs, but very quickly after that “The Shark of Messina” has made everyone forget my first nickname,” laughed Nibali.
The real race now is for second and third place on the podium in Paris. Thibaut Pinot also attacked the final climb and gained enough time on second place rider Alejandro Valverde to move into second place. Valverde slipped to fourth ahead of the crucial closing time trial.
The two French riders Pinot and Jean-Christophe Peraud now stand in second and third place. They are seperated by just 15 seconds. Romain Bardet sits fifth, two minutes behind Valverde, and American Tejay Van Garderen sits in sixth, another two minutes in back of Bardet. Van Garderen is counting on a good time trial to push himself higher in the standings. See the entire classification here.
With his aggressive push, Rafal Majka solidfied his lead in the King of the Mountains competition. Pinot did the same with the white young rider’s jersey and likewise Peter Sagan who has a lock on the green sprinter’s jersey. Mikel Nieve of Team Sky gets to wear the red number as the most combative rider, something of a consoloation prize.
Stage 19 on Friday from Maubourguet Pays du Val d’Adour to Bergerac is a long flat stage, but with just thee days left there is never a time to relax. Riders must avoid crashes and breakaways that could threaten the top contenders. It is the last chance for a breakaway rider to take a stage, and some will no doubt try it. Otherwise, the sprinters will come out to play. Peter Sagan has sown up the green jersey without a stage win, and he will work hard for one today.
Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a serious boxing fan covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Follow the Tour de France daily in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on on Twitter @PRProSanDiego. Gayle can be reached via Google +
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