Nibali extends lead with stage win

Vincenzo Nibali completed his fourth stage victory

Vincenzo Nibali completed his fourth stage victory

First published in National Sport News © by

Vincenzo Nibali wanted to show he was "the boss" in winning his fourth stage of the 101st Tour de France on Thursday to all-but seal overall victory.

Nibali (Astana) added victory on the 145.5-kilometre 18th stage from Pau to Hautacam to wins in Sheffield, La Planche des Belles Filles and Chamrousse.

The Italian - the first yellow jersey holder since Eddy Merckx in 1974 to win four stages outside of time-trials - began the day with an advantage of five minutes 26 seconds and enhanced his lead to a near-unassailable 7mins 10secs with just three stages to go.

Bar a major blow, he will win the yellow jersey in Paris on Sunday.

Nibali's Astana team boss Alexandre Vinokourov said on letour.com: "This is a great victory and a show of strength by the whole team. Vincenzo wanted to prove he was the boss. He really wanted to win that stage."

Nibali added: "It's fantastic to have won four stages. I didn't believe I'd do that.

"There aren't many stages till the finish now and my lead is consolidated. I'm pretty serene.

"I've wanted to leave a footprint in the Pyrenees. I wanted to show that I'm the strongest, I wanted the stage win."

Nibali played down his commanding lead.

He added: "If I have a seven minutes lead, it's not because of a great performance one day.

"It's because of seconds I've collected here and there while my adversaries have sometimes gained something and paid the following day for their efforts.

"My lead is so big because I succeeded in my first goal to gain time on the cobble stones (on stage five).

"It was certainly not easy to get 2:30 there."

The battle to join Nibali on the podium intensified on Thursday, with three riders separated by 15 seconds with one final bid to gain time in Saturday's penultimate day time-trial.

Frenchman Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) was second on the stage, 1min 10secs behind, to move up to second place overall.

Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), who began the day in second, finished 10th, 1:59 behind, to drop to fourth overall, 7:25 behind Nibali and two seconds behind Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale).

Pinot is second by 13 seconds from Peraud, who was fourth on the stage, with Valverde two seconds further back.

Friday's stage is the 208.5km route from Maubourguet Pays du Val d'Adour to Bergerac and expected to suit the sprinters.

The podium contenders will have one last chance to gain time in the 54km time-trial from Bergerac to Perigueux, prior to Sunday's ceremonial sprinters' stage on the Champs-Elysees.

Peraud said on letour.com: "Nothing is done, everything remains to be done in the time-trial.

"With the tiredness in the third week, nobody can rest assured of the second or third place."

A 20-rider breakaway dissolved on the ascent of the day's third categorised climb, the fabled 17.1km Col du Tourmalet, with Mikel Nieve (Team Sky) and Blel Kadri (Ag2r La Mondiale) accelerating to the summit.

Valverde attacked the group of overall contenders on the descent of the Tourmalet.

Nieve attacked on his own on the lower slopes of the 13.6km finishing ascent of Hautacam, but once again Team Sky's luck was against them as they chased a first stage win of 2014 after two flawless Tours.

Chris Horner (Lampre-Merida) attacked and Nibali went with him, before dropping the American.

The Italian then passed Nieve before going alone, once again demonstrating he is the supreme rider in the race and one course to become the sixth rider to have won all three of the Grand Tours, of France, Italy and Spain.

Valverde was wavering as his fellow podium contenders forged on ahead of him with around 6km to go.

Pinot drove on with Tejay van Garderen (BMC) and Peraud on his wheel alongside Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo), who was bidding for the King of the Mountains title.

Pinot followed Majka's burst for the line to take some valuable seconds in his battle for second overall, while Majka confirmed his place in the polka dot jersey.

Peraud was five seconds behind Pinot, with Van Garderen on his wheel, while Valverde dug in in an effort to limit his losses.

"I was at my limits today," Valverde said on letour.com.

"I'm really, really tired but for the time-trial everything depends on the form of the day.

"If I have good legs, I can take the second place back.

"It's not a dramatic day today. Today, I just had to suffer, hang in there, that's what I did to finish with as much dignity as possible."

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