Spaniard loses time on French rivals and drops to fourth
The third day of Pyrenean racing in the Tour de France proved one too many for Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) whose tenacious hold on the provisional podium finally cracked in the face of a combined onslaught by Thibaut Pinot (FDJ.Fr) and Jean Christophe Peraud (AG2R-La Mondiale).
The joint French attack, spearheaded by Pinot and with Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) also present, proved too much for the Spanish veteran, who had attacked on the downhill of the Tourmalet, perhaps to gain time before the Hautacam climb, but was finally reeled in by a long line of Astana riders.
Isolated from his teammates - who had played a crucial role in keeping him in contention on Wednesday - Valverde did not crack completely. But with his strength on the ebb, and Pinot hammering away in the group ahead, the gap nonetheless yawned to over 30 seconds before Valverde, at the head of a string of half a dozen rivals who did not collaborate at any point, could stop the French duo and van Garderen steadily widening the gap.
Finally tenth, Valverde lost 42 seconds to Pinot and 37 second to Peraud and he has now slumped fourth overall. However, with a gap of just 15 seconds separating the second placed Pinot and the Spaniard, and only two seconds between himself in fourth and Peraud, the Movistar rider was adamant that all was not lost in his his pre-race objective of finishing on the podium.
“It wasn’t a good day but it wasn’t a disaster,” Valverde, well wrapped up against the gusting wind, told French television. “I had to find my own pace, and it took me a while to do that. Then I could hold it at around 30 seconds, but the headwind made it a lot harder.”
"I felt good, so I had to try today, although Nibali was too strong," a satisfied Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) told the press after finishing second to Tour de France leader Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) on stage 18 on Thursday.
Pinot has also moved up to second place overall, albeit a huge 7:10 down on Nibali, and the fight for second place is now set to be even more strongly contested than ever after Movistar's Alejandro Valverde lost time and dropped from second to fourth, and Jean-Christophe Péraud (Ag2r) moved into a podium position, up to third place overall from fourth.
"There are now just 15 seconds separating second place and fourth place, and I'm probably the least accomplished time-triallist between the three of us [Pinot, Péraud and Valverde]," Pinot pointed out, referring to the 54-kilometre time trial to come on stage 20 on Saturday. "I'll have to have a great day to hold off Péraud, who is very good against the clock, while Valverde is of course the current Spanish time-trial champion."
On Thursday's 18th stage, Valverde attacked his rivals on the descent of the Col du Tourmalet, but Pinot said that he'd viewed the move "as a sign of weakness on his part", and was proved right on the final climb to Hautacam when Pinot's attack distanced the Spaniard, who finished 49 seconds behind him and had to give up his second place to the Frenchman, too.
"And then when Nibali attacked [on the Hautacam], I knew that I shouldn't panic, and that I shouldn't try to follow him, either, as I knew I'd be in danger of putting myself into the red. On the other hand, I still wanted to try to gain some time on Valverde and Péraud, which I managed to do when it came to Valverde,...
After two and half weeks of diligently aggregating his marginal gains, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) allowed himself an afternoon of indulgence on the Tour de France, motoring away from his rivals on the slopes of Hautacam to claim his fourth stage win of the race and push his overall lead out beyond seven minutes.
Nibali had been almost measured in his domination of the Tour to this point. His single largest gain had came on the cobbles en route to Arenberg on stage 5, and he continued to manage the clock on the summit finishes that followed thereafter, augmenting his lead by seconds rather than minutes.
The Italian confessed on Wednesday that he had never been pushed to his limits on this Tour. In the absence of a direct challenge from his rivals at Hautacam, it seems, Nibali simply decided to test himself.
After responding to an acceleration from Chris Horner with a little over 10 kilometres remaining, Nibali took flight alone 500 metres later. He has given the impression of being in a race of his own for the past week. As if it were needed, this was the final confirmation.
"The climb of Hautacam was different to what I remembered when I did it in the past, but I managed my effort and I approached it like it was a mountain time trial," Nibali said.
"On the last climb, maybe I went a bit early. Horner had upped the pace and I was afraid of leaving the stage getting away from me. I wanted to win the stage badly for the team and the ragazzi."
It was no surprise that none of Nibali's closest followers on general classification dared to lift the pace when he attacked, for they have long been focused on the battle for second and third place. Instead, the most striking visual affirmation of his startling superiority came when he cruised...
BMC's Tejay van Garderen put in a top-class performance on the Tour de France's last stage in the mountains on Thursday to finish in fifth place, taking time out of many of his rivals on the 18th stage.
Although he remains in sixth place overall, the American kept pace with the group of main contenders, which included Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Ag2r's Jean-Christophe Péraud, who are now in second and third place overall, respectively. Stage winner - and race leader - Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), meanwhile, was too good for anyone to match, and took the victory at the summit finish at Hautacam by 1:10 from Pinot to now lead the Frenchman by 7:10.
Van Garderen is now likely to turn in a good time trial performance on the 20th stage disputed over 54 kilometres between Bergerac and Périgueux on Saturday, but a place on the podium now looks like a step too far for him.
"I just had it in my mind that 'this is the last mountain before the end of the Tour, so if you're going to do something you have to do it today'," said van Garderen.
The American upped the pace with six kilometres to go on the final climb, but Pinot and Péraud proved impossible to shake.
"When I was setting a hard tempo, I would look back and Pinot always looked pretty easy on my wheel," said van Garderen. "He's shown a number of times in this Tour that's he's more explosive than me, so I couldn't really get a gap and couldn't really grind him off my wheel because he's so strong."
Van Garderen was, however, able to finish the stage 38 seconds ahead of French fans' favourite Romain Bardet (Ag2r), who, despite having had a fantastic race, also now looks unlikely to be able to finish on the podium.
Bardet is in fifth place overall, just over two...
As Péraud sat silently and motionless against a crash barrier, his soigneur helped him into a jacket, wrapped a towel around his neck and undid his yellow shoes, before wiping his face clean with the quiet respect of an embalmer.
Around them swirled a mass of television crews and journalists, jostling for position as they waited for the Frenchman to speak. Somewhere in that maelstrom his bike had temporarily been swept away, although at that precise moment, his eyes glazed, Péraud would likely have been glad never to see a bike again.
Initially, the soigneur’s words were of simple, almost paternal, encouragement. "Bravo," he repeated at intervals. As the white noise that surrounded Péraud gradually become discernible as words and sounds, he introduced more complex themes. "You’re third now, two seconds up on Valverde."
Péraud nodded, and took a long swig from a recovery drink. He blinked a few times and then nodded once again, this time giving his assent for the scrum to draw a little closer around him.
"Today was a super performance, I limited the damage à la courage," Péraud said quietly. "I really suffered today. I could have lost everything. After a big effort you always pay for it the next day. That was the case for Thibaut [Pinot] after Port de Balès and it was the case for me today. That’s the beauty of three week racing, you have good days and bad days."
Six kilometres from the summit of the climb, Bardet was dislodged from the elite group chasing yellow jersey Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), and while he battled gamely to limit his losses and retain his fifth place on general classification, he was left ruing the 39 seconds he conceded to Tejay van Garderen (BMC).
Bardet remains 2:07 ahead of van Garderen in the overall standings as the Tour leaves the Pyrenees, but with Saturday's 54-kilometre time trial likely to favour the American, he cut a somewhat disconsolate figure as he recounted his day.
"I lost time to van Garderen so it's a personal disappointment, although I think Jice [Péraud] will finish on the podium now, which is fantastic," Bardet said. "I was dead when it accelerated with six kilometres to go. I recovered near the end but the train had already left."
Bardet has been an effervescent presence on this Tour, and he showed particular defiance in back-to-back Alpine summit finishes at Chamrousse and Risoul. In the third week, however, his efforts – here and indeed earlier in the season – have begun to tell.
"There's a bit of personal disappointment, but it's not surprising that I'm struggling a bit in the third week of the Tour because I've been on good form since the Dauphiné, and I've probably passed my peak," Bardet...
The American multinational brand 3M is in talks with Giant-Shimano to become the team's new title sponsor, the Dutch Telegraaf newspaper reports. However 3M’s marketing director Ronald Faas has said it is also talking to other teams as it aims to take a title sponsor role with an international team.
Giant had already assured it will continue to support Iwan Spekenbrink's team. “There will be a team in 2015,” Giant’s marketing director Tom Davies said a few weeks ago. However Giant never planned to be the team’s title sponsor. It stepped up in January after an unknown American charity organization withdrew its initial sponsorship offer causing the team to almost fold.
Iwan Spekenbrink refused to confirm that he is in talks with 3M, telling the Telegraaf: “We have several options at the moment but won’t respond to speculations as long as nothing is signed.”
3M is already involved in professional cycling. It started the 3M continental team in 2013 which is registered in Belgium and currently has a roster of 20 riders.
“When we started we already said we had the ambition to be on the WorldTour-level within three to five years,” Faas said. “Now we have the possibility to speed up this process. But we are also talking to other teams and haven’t made a decision yet. We are looking for an international image in a team.”
The American company said it wants to become title sponsor, and not a second or third sponsor. “We have no problems with co-sponsors,” Faas said, “but it must be clear that the team name is Team 3M.”
Giant-Shimano already won 29 races in 2014 with its men's team, including three Tour de France stages and two stages at the Giro d'Italia with Marcel...
Post-Tour criteriums and Tinkov's Aston Martin promise to Majka
Tour de France 2015 to visit Brittany and L'Alpe d'Huez
The official route of the 2015 Tour de France will only be revealed in late October but several details have already emerged via the media.
The race starts in Utrecht, in the Netherlands, with a 13,7km time trial and then heads to the province of Zeeland, through the city center of Rotterdam where the Grand Départ took place in 2010, finishing on Neeltje Jans, an artificial island amidst giant dams.
On July 6 the second stage starts in Antwerp, Belgium but little is known of the rest of the route.
However Le Telegramme newspaper has claimed that there will be stages in Brittany in 2015. A time trial is expected to start in Avranches and finish in Fougères. Another stage will start in Dinan and finish in either Plouay or Plumelec, with a third stage starting in Quimper.
According to the several media sources, the legendary mountain finish at L'Alpe d'Huez will also be part of the Tour de France next in 2015. In a route that will run anti-clockwise, the Pyrenees will be tackled first, followed by the Alpes. In 2013 Ag2r-La Mondiale's Christophe Riblon won the stage on the iconic mountain finish.
Nibali set for a one million Euro Tour de France bonus
Vincenzo Nibali is set to collect a one million Euro bonus from his Astana team if he wins the Tour de France in Paris on Sunday.
According to Gazzetta dello Sport, the Shark of Messina has clause in his contract with the Kazkhastani team, assuring him of the special bonus. Nibali signed a new contract after winning the 2013 Giro d'Italia and earns an estimated four million Euro per season.
Gazzetta dello Sport also estimates that Nibali and the...