Vincenzo Nibali of Astana regained a measure of pride as well as a couple places on the general classification of the Tour de France by winning stage 19 atop La Toussuire. Nibali, the defending champion, added a fifth career stage victory atop last year's quartet, albeit in slightly controversial fashion as he accelerated away from the race leaders on the Col de la Croix de Fer at the moment Chris Froome of Sky, the Maillot Jaune, experienced a mechanical problem. But for that taboo, the Shark of the Straits of Messina otherwise rode aggressively away from his rivals across the Alps, up and down the hills, past Pierre Rolland of Europcar, and all the way to the line. Clenching his crucifix necklace in his teeth, Nibali pumped his fists as he sealed his victory atop the climb.
Froome ably defended his lead in the Tour de France by responding to the attacks of second-placed Nairo Quintana of Movistar, who saved his best for the climb to La Toussuire and launched an attack with 5km to go to gain some precious time. Quintana showed that he's the sole true threat to Froome, but Froome showed in return that he simply isn't very vulnerable, beginning the day with 3:10 in hand and conceding a mere 31 seconds (including the time bonus calculation). Still, Quintana confirmed what many expected -- that he could put Froome under pressure atop the climbs of the Alps, as he did two years ago -- and his activity sets up tomorrow's stage to Alpe d'Huez as a classic battle.
The action on the opening climb of the Col du Chaussy was frenetic, if indecisive, as the top favorites hit out at each other. The day's hardest climb, the Croix de Fer was fraught with a quieter tension as the main contenders followed Astana's pace and occasionally looked to test each other out. But the stage was settled when Froome suffered a mechanical problem (allegedly a stone stuck in his brakes) on the way to the Croix de Fer summit, and at the same time Nibali decided to attack. For a few moments Froome was in difficulty before working his way back to the leaders' group. Nibali's attack gained him a minute by the summit, while a recovered Froome surged to the line for polka dot points.
Rolland hit the penultimate Col du Mollard climb first, having escaped from the day's breakaway which disintegrated on the Croix de Fer, and was joined by Nibali for a while, but the Italian dropped Rolland -- a former winner at La Toussuire -- with 16km to go and the chasers two minutes behind.
Coming into the final climb rumors began to swirl that Quintana was not feeling well, and not coincidentally the suspense seemed to circle the drain. Tinkoff-Saxo got on the front of the race to limit Contador's losses to Nibali, and everyone else just rode together, nobody exhibiting the ability to launch an attack. However, after a flat section halfway up the climb, Quintana launched his move and quickly opened up a small gap. Froome alone was up for trying to bridge, as the remaining contenders were left behind, once and for all. Froome chased, Quintana lifted his pace, and the battle settled into a subtle pattern all the way to the line. Quintana's lead hovered around 15 seconds for a bit but very slowly increased to 29 by the end, plus a four-second bonus (Froome got 2" for third place).
Alejandro Valverde of Movistar kept his third place overall out of Nibali's clutches, and barring a collapse he should hold off the Shark for his podium place in Paris. Geraint Thomas of Sky dropped several minutes, prioritizing his faithful service to Froome over a minor GC placing, while Alberto Contador dropped behind Nibali on another difficult day. Rolland came in just behind the Valverde group, an effort that moved him into 10th place. Romain Bardet of AG2R, yesterday's stage winner, moved into the lead for the KOM jersey with an effort on the Croix de Fer and hanging in up to La Toussuire, leaving overnight leader Joaquim Rodriguez behind. But with 50 points available at the end of tomorrow's stage, that competition remains tight.
|1.||ITANIBALI Vincenzo||1||ASTANA PRO TEAM||04h 22' 53''|
|2.||COLQUINTANA ROJAS Nairo Alexander||51||MOVISTAR TEAM||04h 23' 37''||+ 00' 44''|
|3.||GBRFROOME Christopher||31||TEAM SKY||04h 24' 07''||+ 01' 14''|
|4.||FRAPINOT Thibaut||21||FDJ||04h 25' 19''||+ 02' 26''|
|5.||FRABARDET Romain||12||AG2R LA MONDIALE||04h 25' 19''||+ 02' 26''|
|6.||ESPVALVERDE BELMONTE Alejandro||59||MOVISTAR TEAM||04h 25' 19''||+ 02' 26''|
|7.||NEDMOLLEMA Bauke||141||TREK FACTORY RACING||04h 25' 19''||+ 02' 26''|
|8.||NEDGESINK Robert||131||TEAM LOTTO NL - JUMBO||04h 25' 19''||+ 02' 26''|
|9.||ESPCONTADOR Alberto||41||TINKOFF-SAXO||04h 25' 19''||+ 02' 26''|
|10.||ESPSANCHEZ Samuel||66||BMC RACING TEAM||04h 25' 19''||+ 02' 26''|
|1.||GBRFROOME Christopher||31||TEAM SKY||78h 37' 34''|
|2.||COLQUINTANA ROJAS Nairo Alexander||51||MOVISTAR TEAM||78h 40' 12''||+ 02' 38''|
|3.||ESPVALVERDE BELMONTE Alejandro||59||MOVISTAR TEAM||78h 42' 59''||+ 05' 25''|
|4.||ITANIBALI Vincenzo||1||ASTANA PRO TEAM||78h 44' 18''||+ 06' 44''|
|5.||ESPCONTADOR Alberto||41||TINKOFF-SAXO||78h 45' 30''||+ 07' 56''|
|6.||NEDGESINK Robert||131||TEAM LOTTO NL - JUMBO||78h 46' 29''||+ 08' 55''|
|7.||SUIFRANK Mathias||181||IAM CYCLING||78h 50' 13''||+ 12' 39''|
|8.||NEDMOLLEMA Bauke||141||TREK FACTORY RACING||78h 50' 56''||+ 13' 22''|
|9.||FRABARDET Romain||12||AG2R LA MONDIALE||78h 51' 42''||+ 14' 08''|
|10.||FRAROLLAND Pierre||121||TEAM EUROPCAR||78h 55' 01''||+ 17' 27''|
|1.||FRABARDET Romain||12||AG2R LA MONDIALE||90 pts|
|2.||GBRFROOME Christopher||31||TEAM SKY||87 pts|
|3.||ESPRODRIGUEZ OLIVER Joachim||91||TEAM KATUSHA||78 pts|
|4.||DENFUGLSANG Jakob||3||ASTANA PRO TEAM||64 pts|
|5.||COLQUINTANA ROJAS Nairo Alexander||51||MOVISTAR TEAM||56 pts|
|6.||BELPAUWELS Serge||218||MTN-QHUBEKA||55 pts|
|7.||FRAROLLAND Pierre||121||TEAM EUROPCAR||54 pts|