SAINT-LARY-SOULAN, France: Although he started the day with a comfortable lead on Alejandro Valverde, Vincenzo Nibali knew that yesterday’s 17th stage of the Tour de France was potentially the most treacherous.
Instead, the Italian rider further extended his advantage with an acceleration midway through the final ascent to the Plat d’Adet after his Astana team had nursed him through the first three climbs.
He now leads Spain’s Valverde by 5:26 with France’s Thibaut Pinot six minutes off the pace as both riders failed to sustain Nibali’s pace.
Nibali, who finished third behind Pole Rafal Majka and fellow Italian Giovanni Visconti, said the stage, a 124.5-km trek from St Gaudens, had all the ingredients to be explosive.
“It was a very nervous stage, it got off to a very fast start this morning and the four climbs in a row really hurt,” said Nibali, who is looking to become the sixth man to win all three grand tours after claiming the 2010 Vuelta a Espana and last year’s Giro d’Italia.
Before him, Frenchmen Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault, Italian Felice Gimondi, Belgian Eddy Merckx and Spain’s Alberto Contador achieved that feat.
After his Astana team mates struggled in Tuesday’s 16th stage, they were more compact on Wednesday and Nibali was never in danger.
“The team did an amazing job. I’m a bit relieved. I feared this stage a little bit,” Nibali said. “Yesterday, some of our rivals were really strong, like (Valverde’s) Movistar who set a very high pace. With such an intense stage, you never know what can happen. It can explode in the first climb and then, what do you do? The plan, anyway, was to stay calm and stay altogether.”
Nibali now has to hold off potential attacks in today’s 18th stage, a mountain ride finishing at the top of the climb to Hautacam, before wrapping it up in Saturday’s time trial. REUTERS