July 24, 2015 – Vincenzo Nibali reminded everyone why he is the reigning champion by claiming victory on the Alpine 19th stage of the Tour de France on Friday.
The “Shark of Messina” attacked with just under 60km remaining in an act of pride and defiance following a difficult Tour defense that disintegrated in the Pyrenees.
But the Alps have been far kinder to the 30-year-old Sicilian whose victory on the 138km stage from Saint Jean de Maurienne to La Toussuire moved him up to fourth overall and just 1min 19sec off a podium finish. Nibali said his move had been the proud reaction of the defending champion, as well as an attempt to win the stage and move up in the standings.
“All three really. Today my team was brilliant. We always had someone in the breakaway. On the first climb it was (Michele) Scarponi then the next breakaway we had (Tanel) Kangert,” said Nibali.
“Our aim was to attack on the Col de la Croix de Fer, I went hard to try to gain time in the standings and also to try to win the stage. It wasn’t easy but the best idea was to attack from a long way out.”
Chris Froome finished third on the stage to maintain his overall lead but Nairo Quintana delivered a minor blow to the Briton and sparked hope — albeit minimal — that this year’s Tour de France is not over. Quintana was second at 44sec from Nibali but crucially took 30sec out of Froome and now sits at 2min 38sec.
“I thought today the time gaps would be greater,” admitted Quintana. “We did what we thought we had to do but (Froome) defended very well. He was still strong and tomorrow (Saturday) we’ll try again, although certainly from further out.”
With Saturday’s final chance to make a difference, Quintana does at least have hope that he can do something on the 110km stage from Modane to Alpe d’Huez, although beating Froome by more than two and a half minutes — there are also time bonuses on the line — remains a tall order.
Froome is supremely confident.
“I can’t wait for tomorrow, it’s going to be an absolutely amazing stage,” he said. “It’s the most iconic climb (Alpe d’Huez) of the Tour de France and the final test in terms of the general classification. I imagine it’s going to be an amazing atmosphere up there. I’m in a great position with a two and a half minute advantage and I can’t wait to get up there now.”
It was an exciting stage from the beginning as the first 15km were all uphill. Nibali attacked on that opening climb behind an Astana teammate while Alberto Contador, fifth overall, also had a little dig.
Those moves shredded the peloton with noticeably Froome’s Sky team completely cracked. Even Geraint Thomas, who had started the day fourth overall, was briefly distanced.
The peloton came together on a long descent and then flat section before the hors category Col de la Croix de Fer. That allowed a breakaway group to form but Frenchman Pierre Rolland went off alone on the 29km ascent with still 67km left to ride. Several accelerations again saw Froome’s Sky teammates fall by the wayside, with Thomas now distanced once and for all, losing 22 minutes and dropping to 15th.
Nibali attacked 4km from the summit of that climb at a time when Froome seemed to have a slight mechanical problem. Nibali, known for his descending skills, never looked back and on the next climb, the second category Col du Mollard, he caught Rolland before dropping the Frenchman on the final ascent to La Toussire.
At that point he had a two-minute lead over the yellow jersey group. Rolland was caught by that group with 6.5km left and then Quintana made his move one kilometer later, and immediately got a gap.
Only Froome could respond but the diminutive Colombian steadily rode away from the Briton. Although he clawed back only 30-seconds, significantly it was the first time this year he managed to put time into Froome.