Vincenzo Nibali is back in control at the head of the Tour de France, emphatically demonstrating that he is the man to beat by conquering the final climb of La Planche des Belle Filles to win Monday's 10th stage and taking back the yellow jersey from Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Belisol).
Nibali and his Astana teammates had been happy to let Gallopin take the race lead ahead of stage 10, allowing the Frenchman to parade the maillot jaune in front of giddy holidaying roadside fans on Bastille Day. The Astana squad's generosity had also provided a much-needed "day off" on Sunday for them, having protected Nibali's race lead since stage 2.
But on stage 10, with the race's first official rest day to come on Tuesday, it was back to business as usual as Nibali put his teammates to work at the front of what was left of the bunch, and the Italian mopped up the last-surviving member of the day's early breakway - Katusha's Joaquim Rodriguez - with a little over a kilometre of the stage to go, stamping his authority on the race.
The tough job of holding the race lead all the way to Paris, however, has now been made considerably easier after the man who was arguably Nibali's main rival, two-time Tour winner Alberto Contador, crashed out on the descent of the day's third climb - the Col du Platzerwasel - mid-way through the 161.5-kilometre stage.
The stage finish at the top of La Planche des Belle Filles was last used by the Tour in 2012, when a then less-well-known Chris Froome took his first Tour stage win for Sky, leading home Cadel Evans and Sky's team leader Bradley Wiggins, who took the yellow jersey for the first time.
Just two short years later, none of them would be duking it out for the stage win; all three would no doubt have been watching at home on television instead. Evans - the 2011 Tour champion - didn't feature in BMC's line-up for this year's race, Sky didn't pick 2012 Tour winner Wiggins, either, while defending Tour champion Froome crashed out of the 2014 Tour on stage 5.
With the road to La Planche des Belles Filles now serving to spell the end for Contador at this year's race, Nibali is looking extremely comfortable at the head of affairs.
Photo caption: Bettini Images
A roller-coaster ride
Almost from the gun, a seven-man group slipped away: Lieuwe Westra (Astana), Giovanni Visconti (Movistar), Markel Irizar (Trek) and, appropriately enough on Bastille Day, four Frenchman - Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Amaël Moinard (Cofidis), Arnaud Gérard (Bretagne-Séché) and Ag2r's Christophe Riblon.
They were soon joined by Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Jan Barta (NetApp) and Cannondale's Peter Sagan - the latter keen to extend his lead in the green points jersey competition. After showing his breakaway companions a clean pair of heel on the descent of the second-category Col du Firstplan, the Slovakian did exactly that, taking the intermediate sprint in the valley between the Firstplan and the day's second climb - the first-category Petit Ballon.
Having got what he'd come for, Sagan was then content to slip back into survival mode and see out the rest of the race with the other sprinters towards the back of the race.
An impressive effort from Tony Martin - the stage winner the previous day - to drag his Omega Pharma-Quick Step teammate Michal Kwiatkowski up to the break would put the Polish rider in the "virtual yellow jersey', having started the day four minutes down on race leader Gallopin.
But there was further drama behind them on the descent of the first-category Col du Platzerwasel, where Tinkoff-Saxo leader Contador crashed heavily. Although he remounted to give chase, it soon became clear that his 2014 Tour campaign was over, and he slowed to a halt at the side of the road, clearly in a lot of pain. It would later be revealed that he had fractured his tibia.
The internet whispered, and soon shouted, that, with Contador out, it was guaranteed that there was again going to be a first-time winner of the Tour in 2014 - for the fifth year in a row.
Photo caption: Bettini images
With 20 kilometres of the stage to go, having single-handedly led the front group for so long in the hopes of putting Kwiatkowski into a race-winning position, Martin cracked completely, the efforts of two tough days clearly taking their toll.
Just a kilometre later, there were only two riders left in the lead - Kwiatkowski and Rodriguez - and just before the top of the penultimate climb of the Col des Chevrères, the elastic also snapped for Kwiatkowski, and the Spanish rider pushed on alone.
Behind them, Astana's Michele Scarponi was pushing hard, with team captain Nibali on his wheel, while just behind them Sky's Geraint Thomas was doing the same job for Richie Porte.
Race leader Gallopin had started the day with a 1:34 cushion over second-placed Nibali, but as the day's roller-coaster ride through the Vosges mountains - seven categorised climbs in all - began to take take its toll, Gallopin fought bravely to hang on to Nibali's coat tails, but was shed from the main group on the slopes of the Col des Chevrères.
Pushing ever harder on the slippery descent, Scarponi overcooked one of the bends, and crashed, leaving Nibali with only Jakob Fuglsang to ride for him. But only a few kilometres further down, Scarponi was back at the front with Fuglsang, bravely having ridden back into the service of Nibali.
Further down the descent still, Kwiatkowski found a second wind, and, with help from Visconti and Moinard, rejoined Rodriguez at the head of affairs. Kwiatkowski even pushed on alone as La Planche des Belles Filles approached, giving it everything, despite the danger of the damp roads.
Again, Rodriguez rejoined Kwiatkowski for the start of the final climb, and with five kilometres left to go, it finally looked as though it was game over for everyone else as Rodriguez again disappeared up the road, the stage win foremost in his mind, and within very real reach with the Nibali group still well over a minute behind.
Nibali maintained his poker face as a rather more pained-looking Scarponi kept pushing the pace, and with three kilometres to go, Nibali made his move following a glance over at him from Scarponi, as if to say, ‘No more.'
Within seconds, Nibali had passed the beleaguered Kwiatkowski, and Nibali soon had Rodriguez in his sights, sweeping past him with just over a kilometre left to race.
The Spaniard tried to hold on to the Italian's wheel, but with a gradient of 20 percent up to the finish line, Rodriguez's efforts were short-lived, and he was caught in the final few hundred metres by a flying Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) - the first of three Frenchmen in the top five - with American Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) sixth and Porte seventh.
Sky captain Porte now sits second overall, 2:23 down on Nibali, while Alejandro Valverde's third place on the stage also lifted him to third place overall, 2:47 behind Nibali.
Of some of the other big names, French hope Pierre Rolland (Europcar) lost over four minutes, while American favourite Andrew Talansky (Garmin-Sharp) - a crash victim himself on several occasions in the is race - lost more than 10 minutes on the stage.
This Tour is far from over - the first 10 days have proven that anything can happen - but Nibali will go into Tuesday's much-needed rest day in the driving seat, looking right now like the man most likely in Paris, especially with Contador now gone.
Photo credit: Stephen Farrand
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|1||Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team||4:27:26|
|2||Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ.fr||0:00:15|
|3||Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team||0:00:20|
|4||Jean-Christophe Péraud (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 3 - Cell 2|
|5||Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||0:00:22|
|6||Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing Team||Row 5 - Cell 2|
|7||Richie Porte (Aus) Team Sky||0:00:25|
|8||Leopold Konig (Cze) Team Netapp-Endura||0:00:50|
|9||Joaquim Rodriguez (Spa) Team Katusha||0:00:52|
|10||Mikel Nieve Iturralde (Spa) Team Sky||0:00:54|
|11||Daniel Navarro Garcia (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||0:01:04|
|12||Bauke Mollema (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling||0:01:06|
|13||Rui Alberto Costa (Por) Lampre - Merida||Row 12 - Cell 2|
|14||John Gadret (Fra) Movistar Team||0:01:08|
|15||Haimar Zubeldia Agirre (Spa) Trek Factory Racing||Row 14 - Cell 2|
|16||Frank Schleck (Lux) Trek Factory Racing||Row 15 - Cell 2|
|17||Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto-Belisol||0:01:16|
|18||Christopher Horner (USA) Lampre - Merida||0:01:21|
|19||Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky||0:01:23|
|20||Simon Spilak (Slo) Team Katusha||0:01:26|
|21||Christophe Riblon (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||0:01:42|
|22||Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling||0:01:58|
|23||Luis Angel Mate Mardones (Spa) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||0:02:01|
|24||Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Omega Pharma-Quick Step||0:02:13|
|25||Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team||0:02:47|
|26||Michele Scarponi (Ita) Astana Pro Team||0:03:49|
|27||Giovanni Visconti (Ita) Movistar Team||0:04:11|
|28||Pierre Rolland (Fra) Team Europcar||0:04:14|
|29||Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling||0:04:16|
|30||Nicolas Edet (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||0:04:21|
|31||Cyril Gautier (Fra) Team Europcar||0:04:26|
|32||Brice Feillu (Fra) Bretagne - Seche Environnement||0:04:34|
|33||Tony Gallopin (Fra) Lotto-Belisol||0:04:46|
|34||José Serpa (Col) Lampre - Merida||Row 33 - Cell 2|
|35||Yury Trofimov (Rus) Team Katusha||0:05:07|
|36||Jan Bakelants (Bel) Omega Pharma-Quick Step||0:05:24|
|37||Peter Velits (Svk) BMC Racing Team||0:05:42|
|38||Mikael Cherel (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||0:05:44|
|39||Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar||0:07:04|
|40||Amaël Moinard (Fra) BMC Racing Team||0:07:06|
|41||Tanel Kangert (Est) Astana Pro Team||0:07:14|
|42||Marcel Wyss (Swi) IAM Cycling||0:07:59|
|43||Ben Gastauer (Lux) AG2R La Mondiale||0:08:17|
|44||Arnold Jeannesson (Fra) FDJ.fr||Row 43 - Cell 2|
|45||Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Giant-Shimano||0:08:45|
|46||Bram Tankink (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling||0:09:53|
|47||Peter Stetina (USA) BMC Racing Team||0:10:12|
|48||Andrew Talansky (USA) Garmin - Sharp||Row 47 - Cell 2|
|49||Tom Jelte Slagter (Ned) Garmin - Sharp||Row 48 - Cell 2|
|50||Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) IAM Cycling||Row 49 - Cell 2|
|51||Jon Izaguirre Insausti (Spa) Movistar Team||0:10:37|
|52||Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Belkin Pro Cycling||0:11:58|
|53||Kristijan Durasek (Cro) Lampre - Merida||0:14:08|
|54||Benjamin King (USA) Garmin - Sharp||Row 53 - Cell 2|
|55||Martin Elmiger (Swi) IAM Cycling||Row 54 - Cell 2|
|56||Vasili Kiryienka (Blr) Team Sky||0:15:28|
|57||Sébastien Minard (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||0:16:07|
|58||José Joaquin Rojas Gil (Spa) Movistar Team||Row 57 - Cell 2|
|59||David De La Cruz Melgarejo (Spa) Team Netapp-Endura||Row 58 - Cell 2|
|60||Jens Voigt (Ger) Trek Factory Racing||Row 59 - Cell 2|
|61||Rafael Valls (Spa) Lampre - Merida||Row 60 - Cell 2|
|62||Johan Van Summeren (Bel) Garmin - Sharp||Row 61 - Cell 2|
|63||Jan Barta (Cze) Team Netapp-Endura||Row 62 - Cell 2|
|64||Nelson Oliveira (Por) Lampre - Merida||Row 63 - Cell 2|
|65||Michal Golas (Pol) Omega Pharma-Quick Step||Row 64 - Cell 2|
|66||Fabian Cancellara (Swi) Trek Factory Racing||Row 65 - Cell 2|
|67||Tony Martin (Ger) Omega Pharma-Quick Step||Row 66 - Cell 2|
|68||Alexandre Pichot (Fra) Team Europcar||Row 67 - Cell 2|
|69||Yukiya Arashiro (Jpn) Team Europcar||Row 68 - Cell 2|
|70||Michael Schär (Swi) BMC Racing Team||Row 69 - Cell 2|
|71||Rein Taaramäe (Est) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||0:16:16|
|72||Greg Van Avermaet (Bel) BMC Racing Team||0:16:20|
|73||Blel Kadri (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||0:17:45|
|74||Jens Keukeleire (Bel) Orica Greenedge||0:19:06|
|75||Adam Hansen (Aus) Lotto-Belisol||Row 74 - Cell 2|
|76||Lars Bak (Den) Lotto-Belisol||Row 75 - Cell 2|
|77||Maxim Iglinskiy (Kaz) Astana Pro Team||0:19:10|
|78||Arthur Vichot (Fra) FDJ.fr||0:19:43|
|79||Matthieu Ladagnous (Fra) FDJ.fr||Row 78 - Cell 2|
|80||Rudy Molard (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||Row 79 - Cell 2|
|81||Jérémy Roy (Fra) FDJ.fr||Row 80 - Cell 2|
|82||Roy Curvers (Ned) Team Giant-Shimano||Row 81 - Cell 2|
|83||Perrig Quemeneur (Fra) Team Europcar||Row 82 - Cell 2|
|84||Imanol Erviti Ollo (Spa) Movistar Team||Row 83 - Cell 2|
|85||Simon Gerrans (Aus) Orica Greenedge||Row 84 - Cell 2|
|86||Simon Clarke (Aus) Orica Greenedge||Row 85 - Cell 2|
|87||Ruben Plaza Molina (Spa) Movistar Team||Row 86 - Cell 2|
|88||Markel Irizar Arranburu (Spa) Trek Factory Racing||Row 87 - Cell 2|
|89||Matteo Montaguti (Ita) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 88 - Cell 2|
|90||David Lopez Garcia (Spa) Team Sky||0:19:50|
|91||Michael Albasini (Swi) Orica Greenedge||0:20:14|
|92||Jesus Herrada Lopez (Spa) Movistar Team||Row 91 - Cell 2|
|93||Peter Sagan (Svk) Cannondale||0:22:31|
|94||Marco Marcato (Ita) Cannondale||0:22:33|
|95||Alessandro De Marchi (Ita) Cannondale||Row 94 - Cell 2|
|96||Lars Boom (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling||0:22:41|
|97||Alex Howes (USA) Garmin - Sharp||Row 96 - Cell 2|
|98||Jack Bauer (NZl) Garmin - Sharp||Row 97 - Cell 2|
|99||Dmitriy Gruzdev (Kaz) Astana Pro Team||0:23:09|
|100||Matteo Trentin (Ita) Omega Pharma-Quick Step||0:24:01|
|101||Alessandro Vanotti (Ita) Astana Pro Team||0:26:04|
|102||Andriy Grivko (Ukr) Astana Pro Team||0:27:39|
|103||Bartosz Huzarski (Pol) Team Netapp-Endura||Row 102 - Cell 2|
|104||Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff-Saxo||0:28:34|
|105||Michael Rogers (Aus) Tinkoff-Saxo||0:28:40|
|106||Nicolas Roche (Irl) Tinkoff-Saxo||Row 105 - Cell 2|
|107||Koen De Kort (Ned) Team Giant-Shimano||Row 106 - Cell 2|
|108||Luke Durbridge (Aus) Orica Greenedge||Row 107 - Cell 2|
|109||Christian Meier (Can) Orica Greenedge||Row 108 - Cell 2|
|110||Sébastien Reichenbach (Swi) IAM Cycling||Row 109 - Cell 2|
|111||Julien Simon (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||Row 110 - Cell 2|
|112||Gregory Rast (Swi) Trek Factory Racing||0:28:43|
|113||Paul Voss (Ger) Team Netapp-Endura||Row 112 - Cell 2|
|114||Fabio Sabatini (Ita) Cannondale||0:28:48|
|115||Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Lotto-Belisol||Row 114 - Cell 2|
|116||Arnaud Gerard (Fra) Bretagne - Seche Environnement||Row 115 - Cell 2|
|117||Florian Guillou (Fra) Bretagne - Seche Environnement||Row 116 - Cell 2|
|118||Bryan Coquard (Fra) Team Europcar||Row 117 - Cell 2|
|119||Lieuwe Westra (Ned) Astana Pro Team||Row 118 - Cell 2|
|120||Thomas Leezer (Ned) Belkin Pro Cycling||Row 119 - Cell 2|
|121||Heinrich Haussler (Aus) IAM Cycling||Row 120 - Cell 2|
|122||Yohann Gene (Fra) Team Europcar||0:28:53|
|123||Kévin Reza (Fra) Team Europcar||Row 122 - Cell 2|
|124||Florian Vachon (Fra) Bretagne - Seche Environnement||Row 123 - Cell 2|
|125||Alexander Porsev (Rus) Team Katusha||0:29:01|
|126||Armindo Fonseca (Fra) Bretagne - Seche Environnement||0:29:16|
|127||Reto Hollenstein (Swi) IAM Cycling||Row 126 - Cell 2|
|128||Anthony Delaplace (Fra) Bretagne - Seche Environnement||Row 127 - Cell 2|
|129||Maarten Wynants (Bel) Belkin Pro Cycling||0:29:23|
|130||Albert Timmer (Ned) Team Giant-Shimano||0:29:27|
|131||Kristijan Koren (Slo) Cannondale||0:29:43|
|132||Matteo Tosatto (Ita) Tinkoff-Saxo||0:29:49|
|133||José Pimenta Costa Mendes (Por) Team Netapp-Endura||0:30:27|
|134||Jérôme Pineau (Fra) IAM Cycling||0:30:37|
|135||Daniel Oss (Ita) BMC Racing Team||0:30:39|
|136||Cyril Lemoine (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||Row 135 - Cell 2|
|137||Davide Cimolai (Ita) Lampre - Merida||0:30:41|
|138||Sergio Miguel Moreira Paulinho (Por) Tinkoff-Saxo||0:30:45|
|139||Gatis Smukulis (Lat) Team Katusha||0:30:47|
|140||Jean-Marc Bideau (Fra) Bretagne - Seche Environnement||Row 139 - Cell 2|
|141||John Degenkolb (Ger) Team Giant-Shimano||0:31:01|
|142||André Greipel (Ger) Lotto-Belisol||0:31:17|
|143||Matthew Busche (USA) Trek Factory Racing||0:31:25|
|144||Marcus Burghardt (Ger) BMC Racing Team||0:32:00|
|145||Daniele Bennati (Ita) Tinkoff-Saxo||0:32:29|
|146||Michael Morkov (Den) Tinkoff-Saxo||Row 145 - Cell 2|
|147||Sebastian Langeveld (Ned) Garmin - Sharp||Row 146 - Cell 2|
|148||William Bonnet (Fra) FDJ.fr||Row 147 - Cell 2|
|149||Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Omega Pharma-Quick Step||Row 148 - Cell 2|
|150||Mickaël Delage (Fra) FDJ.fr||Row 149 - Cell 2|
|151||Benoit Jarrier (Fra) Bretagne - Seche Environnement||Row 150 - Cell 2|
|152||Cedric Pineau (Fra) FDJ.fr||Row 151 - Cell 2|
|153||Maciej Bodnar (Pol) Cannondale||Row 152 - Cell 2|
|154||Zakkari Dempster (Aus) Team Netapp-Endura||Row 153 - Cell 2|
|155||Marcel Kittel (Ger) Team Giant-Shimano||Row 154 - Cell 2|
|156||Romain Feillu (Fra) Bretagne - Seche Environnement||Row 155 - Cell 2|
|157||Dries Devenyns (Bel) Team Giant-Shimano||Row 156 - Cell 2|
|158||Janier Alexis Acevedo Calle (Col) Garmin - Sharp||Row 157 - Cell 2|
|159||Arnaud Demare (Fra) FDJ.fr||Row 158 - Cell 2|
|160||Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale||Row 159 - Cell 2|
|161||Benat Intxausti (Spa) Movistar Team||Row 160 - Cell 2|
|162||Ramunas Navardauskas (Ltu) Garmin - Sharp||Row 161 - Cell 2|
|163||Tom Veelers (Ned) Team Giant-Shimano||Row 162 - Cell 2|
|164||Elia Viviani (Ita) Cannondale||Row 163 - Cell 2|
|165||Bernhard Eisel (Aut) Team Sky||Row 164 - Cell 2|
|166||Svein Tuft (Can) Orica Greenedge||Row 165 - Cell 2|
|167||Niki Terpstra (Ned) Omega Pharma-Quick Step||Row 166 - Cell 2|
|168||Danny Pate (USA) Team Sky||Row 167 - Cell 2|
|169||Jean Marc Marino (Fra) Cannondale||Row 168 - Cell 2|
|170||Vladimir Isaichev (Rus) Team Katusha||Row 169 - Cell 2|
|171||Mark Renshaw (Aus) Omega Pharma-Quick Step||Row 170 - Cell 2|
|172||Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Team Katusha||Row 171 - Cell 2|
|173||Roger Kluge (Ger) IAM Cycling||Row 172 - Cell 2|
|174||Luca Paolini (Ita) Team Katusha||Row 173 - Cell 2|
|175||Marcel Sieberg (Ger) Lotto-Belisol||Row 174 - Cell 2|
|176||Cheng Ji (Chn) Team Giant-Shimano||Row 175 - Cell 2|
|177||Simon Yates (GBr) Orica Greenedge||0:32:39|
|178||Adrien Petit (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits||0:32:47|
|179||Andreas Schillinger (Ger) Team Netapp-Endura||0:43:06|
|180||Tiago Machado (Por) Team Netapp-Endura||Row 179 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Mathew Hayman (Aus) Orica Greenedge||Row 180 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Edward King (USA) Cannondale||Row 181 - Cell 2|
|DNF||Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo||Row 182 - Cell 2|