Vincenzo Nibali begins Saturday’s stage from Grenoble “happier” than he was 24 hours ago and closer to a Tour de France win in Paris. On Friday, he distanced all of his rivals and put 8-42 into Sky’s Richie Porte
Nibali began with 2-23 minutes on Porte 24 hours ago but turned that lead to 11-11 minutes. His nearest rival now, as the race heads into its second Alpine stage, is Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) at 3-37 minutes.
The 29-year-old Italian from Sicily already won the 2010 Vuelta a España and 2013 Giro d’Italia, which should help him manage the final week and a half in France.
The major obstacles ahead of Nibali should be the stage to Risoul today, the Pyrénées and the 54-kilometre time trial to Périgueux.
“My advantage over Porte is good now. He’s the rider I feared the most in the closing time trial,” Nibali said. “For the coming days, I only know that I have to remain quiet. There are still so many mountains ahead.”
Nibali’s victory on Friday widened the gap to his rivals and further reminded followers that former winners Alberto Contador and Chris Froome abandoned. He rode free from the last of his rivals at 6.6 kilometres left in the climb and gained 50 seconds on Alejandro Valverde and Thibaut Pinot.
The stage win was his third in the Tour so far, adding to Sheffield and La Planche des Belles Filles. He led the Tour for 11 of the 13 days, but this was the first time that he won in the yellow jersey.
“My victory in Sheffield remains the less expected of the three. I did it with my instinct when there was so much distance to the finish. It was my first win at the Tour,” Nibali explained.
“Here in the mountains, it’s different because I was prepared for that. The victory has come as well but moreover, I felt released from this never-ending ascent. The high temperature had made it extremely hard. To win with the yellow jersey makes my stage victory more meaningful.”
Nibali would become the first Sicilian to win the Tour de France if he remains in control until July 27 in Paris. He would be the first Italian since Marco Pantani in 1998 and become one of only seven Italians to win in 101 years.