Astana’s Vincenzo Nibali celebrated arguably the greatest stage victory of his career with a special salute to his baby daughter Emma, sucking on his thumb as he crossed the stage 10 finish line in La Planche des Belles Filles at the Tour de France on Monday. The Italian took back the yellow jersey, and with Tinkoff-Saxo’s team leader Alberto Contador now out of the race, he is expecting attacks from Team Sky’s Richie Porte and Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde.
“I was going flat out but I wanted to dedicate the win to my little girl, this victory’s for her. I talk with my wife every day, and they’re watching the race on the TV every day. My wife told me that Emma goes silent and opens her eyes wide when she hears my voice on TV," Nibali said.
It was a sign of celebration and relief for Nibali after a thrilling stage in the Vosges mountains. Nibali revealed he was close to going down when Alberto Contador crashed, which forced the Spaniard to abandon the race.
His Astana teammates then produced a powerful chase of the break that contained Omega Pharma-QuickStep teammates Tony Martin and Michal Kwiatkowski. Nibali timed his surged perfectly and went on to win alone, taking back the yellow jersey and extending his lead to 2:23 minutes on Richie Porte (Team Sky) and 2:47 to Alejandro Valverde (Movistar).
"This was a wonderful victory and it’s thanks to great team work, especially by Michele Scarponi in the finale,” Nibali said. “It’s been a very tough stage with the fog and the rain after ten days of hard racing. This was the hardest stage I've ever done in a Grand Tour, with seven climbs and so many crashes."
Nibali said he was sorry that Contador had crashed out of the Tour and noted that the peloton neutralised the race for a short time to help him get back, however, Martin and Kwiatkowski were already on the attack and did not ease up.
"I feel sorry for Alberto Contador. He crashed just in front of me and I was scared that I'd go down as well. I don't know why he crashed. I just saw that it was a heavy fall,” Nibali said.
"We stopped pedaling for a while. I spoke with Richie Porte, I also spoke with my team car, but Tony Martin was 4.30 ahead, so we had to ride again.
The tenth stage was 161km with seven ascents between Mulhouse - La Planche des Belles Filles. A breakaway of nine riders formed that included Giovanni Visconti (Movistar), Christophe Riblon (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Amaël Moinard (BMC Racing), Marcel Wyss (IAM Cycling), Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) and Rein Taaramäe (Cofidis) along with Martin and Kwiatkowski.
“The stage had started very well for us,” Nibali said. “The breakaway suited us. At that point of the stage, it was Lotto Belisol controlling the race. Then on the first downhill, Kwiatkowski and Martin rode away. The gap was let go by Contador and Sergio Paulinho. But we took control on the next descent.”
The Tour de France is far from over
Nibali can now enjoy the first race of this year's Tour de France after ten testing days, many of which he spent in the yellow jersey. He leads Porte by 2:23 minutes, with Valverde by 2:47, and he expects a fight for the top step on the podium from both riders. Ten riders are still within four minutes, meaning this Tour de France is far from over.
"We have always controlled the race since stage five to Arenberg and have been on guard for attacks from Contador, so in the next few stages, I'll look at controlling again but without him. I'll try to keep the yellow jersey but I won't be left without rivals. Richie Porte and Alejandro Valverde are up there. I'll have to handle my advantage well."
Nibali brushed off suggestions that he might only win the Tour de France because both Contador and team Sky’s Chris Froome have crashed out of the race. "Even before the crashes I had an important advantage and I was ready for a big duel with Alberto Contador,” he said. “Racing isn’t just about being strong on climbs, it’s also about not falling off. 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."
Nibali struggled to be competitive just over a month ago at the Critérium du Dauphiné but claimed that his boost in form and strength was thanks to a late training camp in the Italian Dolomites.
"I think that my performance today was of a very high level, similar to the 2013 Giro d'Italia," he said.
"With my coach Paolo Slongo, we've prepared for the Tour with perfection in order to reach the top level here. Before the Dauphiné, I went to Tenerife for a training camp with all my teammates for the Tour. We did a lot of hard work there. At the Dauphiné, I was good but I didn't have the condition to challenge the best riders. After the Dauphiné, I didn't go home, I went to the Passo San Pellegrino to do specific work. I've done a lot of changes of pace on the climbs behind Slongo's motorbike because I knew I would have to fight against Contador in steep uphill finishes here."
The peloton will take a rest day on Tuesday and continue racing during stage 11 on Wednesday at the Tour de France.