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Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) has taken a third stage win and increased his overall lead in the Tour de France after putting in another dominant performance on the slopes of the final climb to Chamrousse on stage 13.
Nibali attacked from a thinned-out elite field with 6.6km to race and joined the two leaders up the road, before pulling clear with 3.3km to go and riding away for the win.
The first day in the French Alps brought with it high temperatures and a challenging 18km climb to close out the 198km stage. A third-category climb that started less than 20km into the stage saw a number of breakaway groups get clear before dropping back to the main field.
Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) took the points over the Col de la Croix de Montvieux as part of a group that would become the day’s main breakaway. He was joined by Brice Feillu (Bretagne-Seche), Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-QuickStep), Kristijan Durasek (Lampre-Merida, Daniel Oss (BMC), Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale), Rudy Molard (Cofidis), Blel Kadri (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Bartosz Huzarski (NetApp-Endura).
The group had a touch under four minutes over the peloton with 100km to go with Katusha setting the pace for the main field. Their man Joaquim Rodriguez was leading the KOM classification at the start of the day and with two riders in the lead group in striking distance of Rodriguez — Kadri and De Marchi — Katusha was keen to keep the break on a tight leash.
With 80km left to race the gap was down to 2:42 and there was significant disorganisation in the lead group. Daniel Oss, clearly unhappy with the ever-reducing gap, tried a couple times to get clear of his breakaway companions, but each time he was brought back.
As the second of the day’s climbs approached Europcar joined Katusha at the front of the main field, with Astana keeping a watchful eye on proceedings as well. As the 14km, first-category ascent began, Brice Fiellu was the first to get dropped and a couple of kilometres later, 60km from the finish, the break was down to just four riders: Jan Bakelants, Alessandro De Marchi, Rudy Molard and Blel Kadri. Meanwhile, the gap to the peloton was down about 1:15 with many riders suffering in the heat and losing touch with the main field.
De Marchi was dropped from the lead group around the same time as Molard, leaving just Kadri and Bakelants at the head of affairs. But just a few kilometres later, De Marchi rejoined the two leaders and then passed them, setting off alone with 57.7km to race.
As the long climb wore on Luis Angel Mate (Cofidis) attacked from the peloton and Jan Bakelants rode away from Blel Kadri, heading off in search of De Marchi up the road. And in the main field, an easy tempo by Astana saw the gap to the lone leader grow back out to 2:30.
Over the top of the first-category Col de Palaquit it was Alessandro De Marchi who took the 10 KOM points, with Bakelants summiting about a minute later. The peloton crested the climb a further two minutes behind.
The descent off the other side saw a crash from one of Nibali’s key lieutenants, Jakob Fuglsang, the Danish rider reportedly hitting a discarded bidon before hitting the tarmac. He appeared in some pain as he mounted up, jersey torn, and would go on to finish more than half an hour behind his teammate.
The descent ended 32km from the finish and just before the day’s intermediate sprint in Saint-Martin-d’Heres. De Marchi took maximum points there as well with Jan Bakelants second across the line, 46 seconds back. Luis Angel Mate was caught by the peloton just before the sprint point, with the bunch passing through 3:44 after the lone leader.
When the final climb began, 18km from the finish, Movistar was all over the front of the main field having taken over the pacemaking from FDJ.fr. The high tempo being set in the peloton saw De Marchi’s gap reduced quickly — it was 1:41 with 16.5km left to race and less than 40 seconds by the time the Italian had 15km to go.
By that point there were just 20 riders left in the peloton, the steep early slopes of the climb combining with the heat to bring an early end to many riders’ chances of victory. Jan Bakelants was caught by the chase group and with 13.7km left to race De Marchi too was back in the main field.
Some 12.6km from the summit Richie Porte (Sky) drifted to the back of the elite lead group and got on the radio to his team director. He didn’t appear to be in any difficulty, but the Tasmanian, who went into the stage second overall, clearly was. He quickly detached from the lead group and then started fading fast, his chances of standing on the podium in Paris effectively gone.
With 11.9km to go Thibaud Pinot (FDJ.fr) attacked with Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) covering the move. About a kilometre later it was Leopold Konig (NetApp-Endura) who went clear as Pinot drifted back to the bunch. Rafael Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) joined Konig as Laurens Ten Dam (Belkin) tried to bridge across as well.
The attacks continued with Valverde jumping clear with 10.4km to go and being marked by the overall race leader in Vincenzo Nibali. Thibaud Pinot was able to join the Sicilian, as was Ten Dam who hadn’t quite made it to Majka and Konig.
With 8.5km left to race Majka and Konig led the race by 20 seconds over the group of Nibali, Valverde, Pinot and Ten Dam. A further 18 seconds back was another group of nine riders, including best young rider Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) who put in many attacks in the closing kilometres.
It didn’t take long for Nibali to make a move of his own, attacking with 6.6km to go and joining Majka and Konig almost effortlessly. Laurens Ten Dam was dropped from the chase group leaving just Valverde and Pinot together, the former unable to drop the latter with another attack.
With 3.3km left in the race Vincenzo Nibali didn’t so much attack Majka and Konig as simply ride away from them. While everyone else at the pointy end of the race looked like they were suffering, Nibali appeared calm and comfortable as he increased the tempo, building a slight advantage over Konig and Majka.
The pair pulled back some time on the final run to the line but in the end Nibali had time to spare, zipping up his jersey and offering a victory salute for the third time in just 13 stages.
Majka crossed the line second with a deficit of 10 seconds while Konig was a further second behind in third place. Richie Porte faded unceremoniously in the final kilometres, eventually crossing the line 8:48 behind Nibali while flanked by his teammates Geraint Thomas and Mikel Nieve.
The result sees Porte drop from second overall down to 16th, while Alejandro Valverde’s fourth place on the stage was enough to see the Spaniard move up to second (3:37 behind Nibali). Romain Bardet now sits in third overall (4:24 behind Nibali) after finishing seventh on the stage, and holds on to his lead in the best young rider classification.
Joaquim Rodriguez’s time in the polka dots of the KOM leader are over after Nibali took charge of that classification as well. Peter Sagan (Cannondale) remains almost untouchable in the points classification lead, with close to double the points of second-placed Bryan Coquard.
On stage 14 the riders in the 2014 Tour de France take on a 177km stage featuring three climbs, including the hors categorie Col d’Izoard (45km from the finish) and the stage-ending ascent to Risoul (12.6km at 6.9%).
Previous stage reports
– Stage 1: Marcel Kittel takes Tour opener as Cavendish and Gerrans crash
– Stage 2: Vincenzo Nibali wins in Sheffield and takes Tour lead overall
– Stage 3: Marcel Kittel doubles up in London, Nibali holds on to yellow
– Stage 4: Marcel Kittel claims his third stage as Vincenzo Nibali defends yellow
– Stage 5: Lars Boom wins on the cobbles of stage 5 as Chris Froome crashes out
– Stage 6: Andre Greipel sprints to victory on stage 6, Nibali holds steady in yellow
– Stage 7: Matteo Trentin wins in a photo finish, Nibali secures a sixth day in yellow
– Stage 8: Blel Kadri solos to stage 8 victory, Nibali holds lead after GC shakeup
– Stage 9: Tony Martin takes solo win as Tony Gallopin rides into yellow
– Stage 10: Nibali takes back yellow as Contador crashes out of the Tour de France
– Stage 11: Gallopin wins stage 11 of Le Tour after a perfectly timed late attack
– Stage 12: Kristoff sprints to his first Tour de France stage win into Saint-Etienne