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Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) finished 3rd on the stage, 1:03 behind Contador.
Nibali jumps from 11th to seventh after Verbier
Italian Vincenzo Nibali (Liquigas) leaped to seventh overall in the Tour de France Sunday thanks to his third place finish at the end of stage 15 to Verbier. Contador won the mountaintop stage and took the race leader's jersey, but Nibali was only one minute back.
"Contador and Andy Schleck proved to be very strong," Nibali told Cyclingnews. "I did not go immediately with those guys because I was afraid of blowing up. But in the last three kilometres I used up every last bit of strength in my body and it worked out well."
The stage ended with an 8.8-kilometre climb up to Verbier. Nibali and Liquigas teammate Roman Kreuziger were part of a favourites' group that formed soon into the climb. Contador (Astana) attacked with 5.7 kilometres remaining and Schleck (Team Saxo Bank) soon after, but Nibali remained calm with a group that included seven-time Tour winner Lance Armstrong (Astana) and last year's winner Carlos Sastre (Cérvelo TestTeam).
Fränk Schleck (Team Saxo Bank) attacked and distanced several riders in the final three kilometres. Nibali, Bradley Wiggins (Garmin-Slipstream) and Sastre joined Schleck and they rode clear of the favourites' group, including riders such as Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto), Armstrong and Tony Martin (Columbia-HTC).
"I did not know what to make of it, I was going full force and could not think," said Nibali. "I tried for the best I could and in the end I was able to take a great third place. It would have been too hard to win, but this is great nonetheless."
Nibali moved from 11th to seventh overall thanks to the third place finish. He will have to manage himself in three more mountain stages and one time trial before he can achieve his goal of a Tour de France top 10.
Tomorrow is the second rest day of the Tour de France. The race continues with two back-to-back mountain stages and then a 40.5-kilometre time trial. The penultimate day is a mountaintop finish to Mont Ventoux.
"Maybe I will perform badly after tomorrow's rest day, who knows. I am going to try to rest well and then return ready for the next mountain days. Contador and Schleck are favourites, but Wiggins is going strong and that time trial will be in his favour."
Contador leads the overall by 1:37 over Armstrong and 1:46 on Wiggins. Schleck is in fifth at 2:26 and Nibali is seventh at 2:51.
Nibali finished 18th overall in his debut Tour de France last year. He faced many of these same rivals in June's Dauphiné Libéré stage race, where he finished seventh overall.