LA PLANCHE DES BELLES FILLES, FRANCE (SportsNetwork.com) — Vincenzo Nibali of Italy is back in yellow at the Tour de France.
Nibali won Stage 10 and reclaimed the overall lead on Monday, a day after losing the coveted yellow jersey in cycling’s most prestigious event. He also became the overwhelming favorite to win the title after the departure of two- time champion Alberto Contador.
Contador crashed midway through Monday’s stage on a mountain descent and had his right knee treated before resuming. He rode for another 20 kilometers before calling his team car and deciding not to continue.
Nibali, meanwhile, finished the 161.5 kilometers from Mulhouse to La Planche des Belles Filles in a time of 4 hours, 27 minutes and 26 seconds. He won Stage 2 to first take the overall lead before ceding it to Frenchman Tony Gallopin on Sunday.
“This is a wonderful victory, thanks to great team work,” said Nibali.
Gallopin was 1:34 ahead of Nibali following Stage 9 and wore the yellow jersey on France’s national holiday of Bastille Day, but he struggled on a day with seven steep climbs, including four of the difficult Category 1 variety, and wound up 33rd for the stage.
“It was my worst day on a bike,” said an apologetic Gallopin. “Four hours of suffering. Every climb was an ordeal. I really did everything I could, but I paid for my efforts last week and yesterday. I’m sorry. Even though it was hard and I had no illusions, I was still hoping to keep (the yellow jersey) deep inside. It was beyond my strength, I gave it my all.”
Nibali now owns an overall lead of 2:23 over Australia’s Richie Porte, who was seventh on Monday. Spain’s Alejandro Valverde is another 24 seconds behind in third overall after a third-place finish on Monday. France’s Romain Bardet is 3:01 behind in fourth and Gallopin dropped to fifth overall, 3:12 off the pace.
“This was the hardest stage I’ve ever done in a Grand Tour, with seven climbs and so many crashes,” added Nibali. “I feel sorry for Alberto Contador. He crashed just in front of me and I’ve been scared that I’d go down as well but I don’t know why he crashed.”
Contador, the 2007 and 2009 champion, apparently hit an object or a hole in the middle of the road and took a nasty fall. He had his right knee bandaged, but was more than four minutes behind the peloton when he resumed riding.
According to the Tinkoff-Saxo team statement, Contador was unable to pedal because of a right knee injury when he called it quits.
“Alberto crashed on a fast and straight part of the descent,” said team director Bjarne Riis. “He was reaching for his pocket and the bike was swept away under him probably because of a bump or hole in the road.”
It was later updated by Riis that Contador suffered a fractured tibia.
“Alberto has broken his tibia just below the knee,” Riis stated. “It’s not a compound fracture, but it probably requires surgery. He will stay with us tonight and tomorrow he will travel back to Madrid to undergo further examinations and surgery if necessary.”
The Spaniard became the second former winner to withdraw this year, following defending champion Chris Froome’s departure in Stage 5.
“If I win the Tour, (people will say it was) because Chris Froome and Contador have crashed,” said Nibali. “I already had a good lead and I was ready to fight in a big duel with Alberto. Crashes are part of the sport. I’ve crashed myself many times in the past as well. It’s a pity that the Tour has lost two major protagonists. I hope it’s not too bad for Alberto. I wish him the best.”
Spain’s Joaquim Rodriguez, the mountains leader after Stage 10, was riding toward a stage victory, but ran out of steam on the final ascent.
Nibali made his move with about 2.5 kilometers remaining and caught Rodriguez with just over one kilometer left. Rodriguez was also passed by seven other riders and finished ninth for the day.
“I was aware that my advantage was probably not enough for winning the stage,” said Rodriguez. “Nibali was super strong.”
There was no one to challenge Nibali in the final moments and he finished 15 seconds ahead of Frenchman Thibaut Pinot, with Valverde another five seconds behind.
American Tejay Van Garderen was sixth for the day, 22 seconds back, and now sits seventh overall. He is 3:56 behind Nibali’s lead pace.
The Tour takes its first rest day on Tuesday before Stage 11 on Wednesday features 187.5 kilometers from Besancon to Oyonnax. It features four climbs near the conclusion, but none more difficult than Category 3.