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Le Tour Stage 18: Nibali Stamps Authority On His Tour

Race leader Vincenzo Nibali took his fourth stage win in this year's Tour today, jumping away from the group of overall contenders with Chris Horner 10km from the finish atop Hautacam and dispatching the Lampre-Merida rider and riding through the last remnants of the day's breakaway shortly afterwards.

Bryn Lennon

Though it is rare for riders to win the overall in the Tour de France without winning a single stage, winning four stages in a single Tour is comparably rare for general classification riders. If he arrives in Paris with the yellow jersey - and there is no reason to believe he will not - Vincenzo Nibali will become the first rider to win a Tour title and four road stages (excluding time trials) in the same year since Eddy Merckx did in 1974.

It is too soon to call Nibali the winner of this year's Tour because misfortune could still strike in the three stages that remain, but the Italian seems destined to stamp his authority on a race that many believe has an asterisk on it after the premature withdrawal of the two main favorites, Chris Froome and Alberto Contador. With a lead in excess of seven minutes to second placed Thibaut Pinot, Nibali seems intent on making a statement that he could have won even with Froome and Contador here. On a day when many expected him to merely ride defensively and save energy for the 54 kilometer time trial in two days time, Nibali instead rode away from his rivals once again. We cannot predict how race dynamics would have been different with Contador and Froome - two of the world's best climbers - but today showed a man seemingly on a mission to prove his win this year will be no fluke.

Behind Nibali, the battle for the lower spots on the podium continued as intensely as it has over the past several days. Rafal Majka jumped in pursuit of Nibali to prevent the Italian from putting too many king of the mountain points into him on a summit finish worth 50 points for the first across the line. Behind Majka, Thibaut Pinot attacked, putting second placed Alejandro Valverde into difficulty and taking Jean-Christophe Peraud and Tejay van Garderen with him. The trio would catch Majka in the final two kilometers as he began to tire. Majka then jumped again out of the group within sight of the finish, but he was passed by Pinot shortly before the line and the group crossed the line over a minute down on a flying Nibali. Majka's third place was enough to hold onto his lead in the king of the mountains classification. With no more major climbs between here and Paris, his lead is safe for the remainder of the Tour.

Valverde limited his losses and crossed the line 49 seconds down on Pinot, enough to drop the Movistar rider down to third place overall. Pinot, Valverde, and fourth placed Peraud are now separated by a mere 15 seconds setting up an exciting battle for the remaining steps on the podium in Saturday's time trial. Peraud is a former French time trial champion and Valverde is the current Spanish champion in the discipline, though Peraud has traditionally held an advantage in the longer tests against the clock while Valverde's time trial prowess has come mostly in the 20-40 kilometer distance. Pinot is not as strong against the clock as these two, but he has spent considerable time working on his position and has been entirely decent against the clock this year Though he would still be expected to lose time on a flat time trial, the inclusion of two substantial climbs in the parcours for Saturday could provide an equalizer for the trio.

Stage Results:

1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 4:04:17
2 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) 0:01:10
3 Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff-Saxo 0:01:12
4 Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:01:15
5 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team
6 Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:01:53
7 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling Team 0:01:57
8 Leopold Konig (Cze) Team NetApp - Endura
9 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) Trek Factory Racing 0:01:59
10 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team

General Classification:

1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 80:45:45
2 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) 0:07:10
3 Jean-Christophe Péraud (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:07:23
4 Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:07:25
5 Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 0:09:27
6 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team 0:11:34
7 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling 0:13:56
8 Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling 0:14:15
9 Leopold Konig (Cze) Team Netapp-Endura 0:14:37
10 Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) Trek Factory Racing 0:16:25

Mountains Competition:

1 Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff-Saxo 181 pts
2 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 168
3 Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha 112