Nibali survives Tour time trial

Escrinet and Ventoux last chances for final podium spot

Italy's Vincenzo Nibali held his seventh place overall yesterday in the Tour de France after the 40.5-kilometre time trial around Annecy.

"It was truly a fast time trial. There were no recovery points and you had to keep the gears going the whole time," Nibali said.

The stage went around the Lac d'Annecy and included a category three climb 12 kilometres from the finish. Nibali (Liquigas) suffered in the finale of the course and finished 26th at 2:06 behind stage winner and overall leader Alberto Contador (Astana).

"Those last 12 kilometres were really fast, from the top of the climb to the finish. I had to put in as much as I could not to lose time to the specialists."

Nibali remained seventh overall, but fell a minute further back to sixth-placed Fränk Schleck (Saxo Bank). The three-week race ends Sunday in Paris, but today and tomorrow's stages suit the Italian.

Friday's stage to Aubenas features the Col de l'Escrinet climb (787m) with 16 kilometres remaining. Nibali should be able to use his climbing and descending skills to gain time by the finish.

Saturday's stage to Mont Ventoux, the great finale of this year's Tour, will be more decisive for the overall classification. The 22.1-kilometre Mont Ventoux climb features an average gradient of 7.6 percent and strong headwinds above the tree line.

"Mont Ventoux is really hard, especially at the start. The Tour classification can completely change with this climb," said Nibali.

Liquigas should win the mountains' classification with its rider Franco Pellizotti, but the team still wants to win a stage, added Nibali. Aubenas and Mont Ventoux are prefect opportunities for the young rider to win and move into the top three overall.

Contador leads the race over Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank) by 4:11, Lance Armstrong (Astana) 5:25, Bradley Wiggins (Garmin-Slipstream) 5:36, Andreas Klöden (Astana) 5:38, Fränk Schleck (Saxo Bank) 5:59 and Nibali at 7:15.

Nibali finished 20th in his debut Tour de France last year, 28:33 behind winner Carlos Sastre. He placed 50th in the final time trial last year, 5:28 back.

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