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Le Tour Stage 17: Majka Doubles Up

The resurrection of Saxo-Tinkoff's Tour de France from the ashes of Alberto Contador's broken tibia and withdrawal halfway through the race continued as young Polish star Rafael Majka took his second stage win of this year's Tour. As an added bonus, the win gives him a commanding lead in the mountains classification that should survive to Paris.

The day started off in a manner that must have had Greipel, Kittel, and the other sprinters and leadout men cursing at that blasted climber's competition. The culprit? Majka joined the early breakaway in hopes of padding his narrow lead over Joaquím Rodríguez with some of the 80 KOM points on offer throughout today's stage. This was not to the liking of Rodríguez, who has had designs on the maillot a pois for the duration of the race, and he set his Katusha team to chase mode. The result was covering some 52 kilometers in the first hour before the four major climbs packed into the final 75 kilometers, a feat which surely was not met with smiles and kind words by anyone who might be riding in the autobus for much of the stage. Rodríguez finally made his move to get across to the group on the lower slopes of the Col de Portillion, giving the field a chance to sit up and catch its breath. After bridging to the break, Rodríguez took maximum points atop the Portillion and the break, now including Majka's teammate Nicholas Roche along with GC hopefuls Jurgen Van den Broeck, Pierre Rolland, and Bauke Mollema, began to work more coherently.

Vasili Kiryienka took advantage of the deténte in the break and rode up the road solo, amassing over two minutes lead by the top of the next climb. Behind, the break stayed together, at least until the top of the second climb when Rodríguez leapt forth to take second over the top followed closely by Majka. That effort seemed to touch off the hostilities in the break and Kiryienka's lead began to fall steadily. By the base of the final climb, the Pla d'Adet, the situation had changed so that Nicholas Roche, Pierre Rolland, Giovanni Visconti, and Amaël Moinard were off the front with a small but growing gap. After some shadow boxing, Visconti took off solo and the others were unable to respond. Behind, Majka and Rodríguez attacked each other with the Saxo-Tinkoff rider coming out on top after a few parries. Majka would climb through the remnants of the front group and eventually catch and drop Visconti, soloing to the line with Visconti coming through next some 29 seconds down.

Though the fighting for the stage win was fierce, so too was the tussling in the group of overall contenders. FDJ forced the pace on the penultimate Col de la Val Louren Azet for team leader Thibault Pinot and Romain Bardet, sitting second in the young rider competition and fifth overall, jumped clear on the technical descent, trying once again to bring out Pinot's seemingly forgotten fear of descending. Though Bardet pulled out 30 seconds lead at one point, he hit the final climb with only fifteen seconds and would be caught halfway up and finish alongside Pinot. Once again seemingly tired of the jerky pace set by those fighting for lower spots on the GC, Vincenzo Nibali leapt clear a few kilometers from the finish. Jean Christophe Peraud was once again the only rider capable of matching Nibali and would stay on his wheel to the line as they cut their way through the remaining riders from the break to finish third and fourth on the stage. Behind, Alejandro Valverde appeared to struggle, dropping up to twenty seconds on the group containing Pinot and Bardet, but he rallied near the end of the climb to regain contact and then put five seconds into the duo of young French riders at the line.

Seemingly on a mission to prove he could have genuinely fought for the win had Alberto Contador and Chris Froome not been forced to abandon the race with injuries, Nibali put time into all his rivals save Peraud again and now leads Valverde by over five minutes with one more mountaintop finish and long time trial to come. With Nibali one of the strongest GC riders in time trials, he is likely to pad his lead even more. Behind, the battle for the podium is even tighter, especially with former French national time trial champion Peraud sitting a mere 32 seconds behind Valverde.

Stage Results:

1 Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff-Saxo 3:35:23
2 Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Movistar Team 0:00:29
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 0:00:46
4 Jean-Christophe Péraud (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
5 Alessandro De Marchi (Ita) Cannondale 0:00:49
6 Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar 0:00:52
7 Frank Schleck (Lux) Trek Factory Racing 0:01:12
8 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling
9 Nicolas Roche (Irl) Tinkoff-Saxo 0:01:25
10 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:01:35
11 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) 0:01:40
12 Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
13 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team
14 Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling 0:01:50
15 Jon Izaguirre Insausti (Spa) Movistar Team

General Classification:

1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 76:41:28
2 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:05:26
3 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) 0:06:00
4 Jean-Christophe Péraud (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:06:08
5 Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:07:34
6 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:10:19
7 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling 0:11:59
8 Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling 0:12:16
9 Leopold Konig (Cze) Team Netapp-Endura 0:12:40
10 Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar 0:13:15

Mountains Classification:

1 Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff-Saxo 149 pts
2 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 118
3 Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha 112