Nibali takes a fourth stage victory as the Tour leaves the Pyrenees

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Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) has closed out the high mountain stages in the 2014 Tour de France with another commanding performance on stage 18, claiming his fourth stage victory of the race. The Sicilian attacked on the stage-ending climb to the Hautacam ski resort and put considerable time into all his rivals while, further down the road, a battle was being waged for overall podium positions.

The third and final day in the Pyrenees saw the riders in the 2014 Tour de France head from Pau to the Hautacam, with four categorised climbs along the way. The two third-category climbs in the opening 60km would be of little consequence on a stage that ended with two hors categorie climbs: the Col du Tourmalet and the Hautacam.

The day’s first breakaway was established by Daniel Oss (BMC) and Bartosz Huzarski (NetApp-Endura) with the pair getting 1:15 clear after 14km of racing. Over the next five kilometres they were joined by a further 18 riders, creating a 20-man escape group: Oss, Huzarski, Mikel Nieve (Sky), Jesus Herrada and Jon Izaguirre (Movistar), Yuri Trofimov (Katusha), Alessandro De Marchi and Marco Marcato (Cannondale), Lars Boom (Belkin), Jan Bakelants (OPQS), Blel Kadri (AG2R), Matthieu Ladagnous (FDJ), Bryan Coquard, Kévin Reza and Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Julien Simon (Cofidis), Sylvain Chavanel and Marcel Wyss (IAM), Tiago Machado (NetApp) and Florian Guillou (Bretagne).

At the top of the first climb of the day, the third category Cote de Benejacq with 118km remaining, it was Huzarski who took the points. The gap to the Astana-led peloton was 3:46.

With 100km to go the gap had been reduced slightly, to 3:25, and at the top of the second climb, the third-category Cote de Loucrup, it was Lars Boom who took the points ahead of Huzarski.

The intermediate sprint in Trebons came very soon after that second climb, with Bryan Coquard (Europcar) taking the maximum points in the lead group. Some 3km later, with 81km left to race, the leaders had extended their advantage back out to 3:52.

On the approach to the Col du Tourmalet Astana started to work a little harder on the front, the gap coming down to 3:35 as the ascent began with 67km to go. The lead group began splitting up as soon as the headed skyward, the same fortune awaiting the peloton a few minutes later.

Sylvain Chavanel (IAM) attacked from the breakaway on the lower, gentler slopes of the 17km climb and got a small gap. But three kilometres later, 59.4km from the end of the stage, Mikel Nieve and Blel Kadri joined then passed Chavanel, having broken clear of the chase group a short time earlier.

The peloton was disintegrating on the climb with riders like Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Richie Porte (Sky) getting into difficulty. The lead group too was fracturing with riders constantly getting swept up by the peloton.

With 55km to go it was just Yuri Trofimov, Alessandro De Marchi and Bartosz Huzarski that remained of the chase group, the trio sitting 44 seconds behind the two leaders. Nieve attacked Kadri a couple of times in the steep final 5km to the summit but Kadri was up to the task each time.

Kadri was first over the top just ahead of Nieve, with Trofimov, Huzarski and De Marchi summiting 1:39 later. The peloton began the descent 4:30 behind the two leaders after which Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) broke clear, trying to escape from the Nibali group on the tight and technical descent.

After 14km of descending, and with 36km still to race, Valverde had 20 seconds on the peloton, with two of his teammates — Jesus Herrada and Jon Izaguirre — having dropped back from the remnants of the break to assist their leader.

With 30km still to race Nieve and Kadri were enjoying a buffer of 1:25 over an expanded group of six chasers (De Marchi, Huzarski, Trofimov, Bakelants, Oss and Simon), 3:36 over the small Valverde group, and another 10 seconds over the peloton. Three kilometres later Valverde and his teammates were caught by a strung-out peloton, the gap to the two leaders starting to come down quite quickly.

Nieve and Kadri had 2:33 over the peloton with 20km to race and when the final climb to the Hautacam began, 14km from the finish, the gap was down to just 1:30.

With 12.2 left to race the two leaders’ alliance was over with Nieve breaking clear of Kadri. In the main field Trofimov was getting swept up, leaving just Huzarski and De Marchi between the Astana-led peloton and the two leaders.

Huzarski was caught with 10.8km to go and 200m later Chris Horner (Lampre-Merida) put in his first real attack of the race. He was quickly marked by overall leader Vincenzo Nibali, the pair breaking clear and quickly overtaking Alessandro De Marchi.

With 10km to go Horner and Nibali were just 50 seconds behind Nieve and a short time later the pair swept up Blel Kadri.

Nibali broke clear of Horner with 9.6km still to climb, heading off solo in search of the lone leader and, ultimately, a fourth stage win at this year’s Tour. The Sicilian made the catch with 8.1km to go, moving alongside the Basque rider then accelerating to ensure he couldn’t get into his slipstream.

After a couple of attacks in the peloton KOM classification leader Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) broke clear, heading off in search of more points to secure his lead in the competition. He caught then dropped Nieve with 6.7km to go just as solo leader Nibali hit a selfie-taking fan just up the road but managed to stay upright.

With 5.6km still to race, Thibaut Pinot (, in the white jersey of the best young rider, attacked from a very select elite peloton. Only Tejay van Garderen (BMC) and Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r-La Mondiale) were able to follow, while Alejandro Valverde was stuck in the group, his second place overall in jeopardy.

Valverde was soon dropped by what was left of the peloton — Laurens Ten Dam (Belkin), Bauke Mollema (Belkin), Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) and Leopold Konig (NetApp-Endura). But the Spaniard fought back on with 4.1km to go, alongside Haimar Zubeldia (Trek).

With 3.2km still to race Nibali had 57 seconds over the solo chase of Rafal Majka and 1:13 to the trio of Pinot, Van Garderen and Peraud. And further down the road, Valverde was being made to ride on the front of the six rider chase group, no-one willing to help him do the work.

Majka was caught by Peraud, Pinot and Van Garderen with 2.3km to go while Nibali was cruising away to victory, more than 1:10 ahead of the quartet. Valverde, meanwhile, was still doing all the work, and was drifting to beyond 37 seconds of the Peraud group, enough to lose his second place overall.

At the summit of the Hautacam it was Vincenzo Nibali who took his fourth stage win of this year’s Tour de France and extended his overall lead, yet again. He now sits 7:10 ahead of new second-placed rider Thibaut Pinot, who took second place on the stage, with Jean-Christophe Peraud third overall at 7:23. Valverde slips down to fourth, two seconds behind Peraud, but with a long time trial coming up on the penultimate stage, he should move back up on to the podium.

Rafal Majka’s third place on the stage sees him keep his lead in the KOM classification; a classification he will win when the race arrives in Paris given there’s only two more KOM points available in the three stages remaining.

The green jersey is still firmly on the shoulders of Peter Sagan (Cannondale) ahead of a stage that could suit him tomorrow. And Thibaut Pinot will spend another day in the best young rider’s jersey after gaining more time on his closest rival Romain Bardet.

And so with the high mountains of the Pyrenees now behind them, the riders have just three stages left to tackle in the 2014 Tour de France. Tomorrow’s stage 19 runs from Maubourguet to Bergerac with only a fourth-category climb 13km from the finish to contend with.

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
– Stage 13: Nibali climbs to a third stage win and stamps his authority on Le Tour
– Stage 14: Rafal Majka claims to stage 14 win in his first Tour de France
– Stage 15: Kristoff wins again as Bauer and Elmiger fall agonisingly short
– Stage 16: Michael Rogers wins stage 16 after late attack off the Port de Bales
– Stage 17: Majka wins again as Tinkoff-Saxo go back-to-back at Le Tour

Stage results

Rnk Rider Team Time
NIBALI Vincenzo NIBALI Vincenzo Astana Pro Team
Astana Pro Team 04:04:17
PINOT Thibaut PINOT Thibaut 1:10
MAJKA Rafał MAJKA Rafał Tinkoff - Saxo
Tinkoff - Saxo 1:12
Rnk Rider Team Time
NIBALI Vincenzo NIBALI Vincenzo Astana Pro Team
Astana Pro Team 80:45:45
PINOT Thibaut PINOT Thibaut 7:10
PERAUD Jean-Christophe PERAUD Jean-Christophe AG2R La Mondiale
AG2R La Mondiale 7:23
Rnk Rider Team Points
SAGAN Peter SAGAN Peter Cannondale
Cannondale 408
COQUARD Bryan COQUARD Bryan Team Europcar
Team Europcar 253
KRISTOFF Alexander KRISTOFF Alexander Team Katusha
Team Katusha 217
Rnk Rider Team Time
PINOT Thibaut PINOT Thibaut 80:52:55
BARDET Romain BARDET Romain AG2R La Mondiale
AG2R La Mondiale 2:17
KWIATKOWSKI Michał KWIATKOWSKI Michał Omega Pharma - Quick-Step
Omega Pharma - Quick-Step 01:01:45
Rnk Rider Team Points
MAJKA Rafał MAJKA Rafał Tinkoff - Saxo
Tinkoff - Saxo 181
NIBALI Vincenzo NIBALI Vincenzo Astana Pro Team
Astana Pro Team 168
RODRÍGUEZ Joaquim RODRÍGUEZ Joaquim Team Katusha
Team Katusha 112
Rnk Team Time
AG2R La Mondiale
Belkin-Pro Cycling Team
Movistar Team

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