Thursday, July 24, 2014

Tour de France 2014: Nibali Leaves No Doubt!

The toughest day in the Pyrenees has had a major impact on the General Classification of the 2014 Tour de France, but at the end of the day,  the overall leader of the race remains the same. Italian cyclist Vincenzo Nibali has left no doubt who is the best rider in the race this year, claiming his third stage win on the summit of Hautacam, and securing his victory in Le Tour, barring some unforeseen problems over the final few days of the race.

Today's stage featured two massive climbs, the first of which went up the imposing Tourmalet, which has been the site of some dramatic cycling showdowns in the past. That Beyond Category climb gave way to a fast and furious descent, before the riders started the grueling ride to the mountain top finish on Hautacam, another legendary slope from past tours.

The day belonged to Nibali, who left all challengers in his wake as he made his way up the final climb of this year's race. When the great Italian rider went on the attack, few were able to hang with him for very long, and soon he found himself riding alone all the way to the summit Behind him, the battle for a podium spot heated up however, as Alejandro Valverde, who entered the day in second place on the GC, cracked on Hautacam and watched a number of young riders pull away from him. That group included Thibaut Pinot, Jean-Christophe Péraud, and Tejay Van Garderen, all of whom picked up time. At the end of the stage, Valverde fell out of the top three, with Pinot and Péraud moving up to second and third place overall.

With the last mountain stage now behind us, Nibali should ride into Paris in the Maillot Jaune. Tomorrow's stage will be flat, and favor the sprinters, while Saturday's individual time trial shouldn't pose much of a challenge considering he has more than a seven minute lead on the second place rider.  Nibali is not a great time trialist, but he is certainly strong enough to hold off any challengers. Provided he gets through the course without any serious accidents, he will ride onto the Champs Élysées on Sunday in Yellow. He will become one of just six riders to win all three of cycling's Grand Tours.


As for the other jerseys up for grabs, they are all but decided as well. Peter Sagan continues to have a strangle hold on the green sprinters jersey, and he'll likely be looking for more points tomorrow, as well as an elusive stage win. Rafal Majka added to his total in King of the Mountains competition, and now holds a 13 point lead in that category over Nibali. With no real climbing points to collect, he'll ride into Paris in the Polka Dots for sure. The White Jersey belongs to Thibaut Pinot, who is in second place overall in the race as well. He holds a 2'17" lead on Romain Bardet as the best young rider under the age of 25. Bardet isn't likely to make up that time over the next three stages.

Tomorrow, the riders will face a 208.5 km (129.5 km) ride from Maubourguet Pays du Val d'Adour to Bergerac. The profile includes a few rolling hills, but for the most part, it will be a flat, fast ride that will open up the opportunities for a stage win to the sprinters in the Peloton. A Category 4 climb near the end of the stage shouldn't cause too many problems, but could allow a rider with all-around skills to breakaway for the win. This is another stage that should suit Peter Sagan well, and we know he is thirsty for a stage victory. But there are others who would like to earn that win as well. With the time trial looming on Saturday, and the pure sprinting chaos that takes place on the Champs Élysées on Sunday, this will be the last opportunity for many of the riders to claim a victory.

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