In Alps, Nbali again dominates Tour de France

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In Alps, Nbali again dominates Tour de France
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 7: The pack races at the third stage of the 2014 Le Tour de France, a 155km stage between Cambridge and London, on July 7, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Yunus Kaymaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 7: The pack pasts Big Ben at the end of the third stage of 2014 Le Tour de France, a 155km stage between Cambridge and London, on July 7, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Yunus Kaymaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Chris Froome (r) of Great Britain and Team SKY chats to the press at the start of the third stage of the 2014 Tour de France, a 155km stage between Cambridge and London, on July 7, 2014 in Cambridge, England. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
(From L) Italy's Vincenzo Nibali wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, and Britain's Christopher Froome wait at the departure village in Cambridge prior to the start of the 155 km third stage of the 101st edition of the Tour de France cycling race on July 7, 2014 between Cambridge and London, southwestern England. AFP PHOTO / JEFF PACHOUD (Photo credit should read JEFF PACHOUD/AFP/Getty Images)
CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND - JULY 07: Race leader Vincenzo Nibali (l) of Italy and the Astana Pro Team chats to Chris Froome of Great Britain and Team SKY at the start of the third stage of the 2014 Tour de France, a 155km stage between Cambridge and London, on July 7, 2014 in Cambridge, England. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
Czech Republic's Jan Barta celebrates his combativity prize on the podium at the end of the 155 km third stage of the 101st edition of the Tour de France cycling race on July 7, 2014 between Cambridge and London, southwestern England. AFP PHOTO / ERIC FEFERBERG (Photo credit should read ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
Riders enter Parliament Square as they head towards the finish of the 155 km third stage of the 101st edition of the Tour de France cycling race on July 7, 2014, between Cambridge and London. AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL (Photo credit should read LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)
Spectators watch as riders enter Parliament Square heading towards the finish of the 155 km third stage of the 101st edition of the Tour de France cycling race on July 7, 2014, between Cambridge and London. AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL (Photo credit should read LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 07: Crowds cheer as cyclists competing in the Tour de France pass through Parliament Square at the end of the race's third stage on July 7, 2014 in London, England. The first three stages of the Tour de France have taken place in England. After traveling through Yorkshire on the first two days, today's stage runs from Cambridge to London, finishing on The Mall. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
Britain's Christopher Froome waits at the departure village in Cambridge prior to the start of the 155 km third stage of the 101st edition of the Tour de France cycling race on July 7, 2014 between Cambridge and London, southwestern England. AFP PHOTO / JEFF PACHOUD (Photo credit should read JEFF PACHOUD/AFP/Getty Images)
CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND - JULY 07: Race leader Vincenzo Nibali (l) of Italy and the Astana Pro Team chats to Peter Sagan of the Czech Republic and Cannondale at the start of the third stage of the 2014 Tour de France, a 155km stage between Cambridge and London, on July 7, 2014 in Cambridge, England. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 07: Marcel Kittel (C) of Germany and Team Giant-Shimano sprints to victory in stage three of the 2014 Le Tour de France from Cambridge to London on July 7, 2014 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 07: Marcel Kittel (C) of Germany and Team Giant-Shimano sprints to victory in stage three of the 2014 Le Tour de France from Cambridge to London on July 7, 2014 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 07: Crowds cheer as cyclists competing in the Tour de France pass through Parliament Square at the end of the race's third stage on July 7, 2014 in London, England. The first three stages of the Tour de France have taken place in England. After traveling through Yorkshire on the first two days, today's stage runs from Cambridge to London, finishing on The Mall. (Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
Italy's Vincenzo Nibali (3rdR) wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey and Spain's Alberto Contador (C) ride in the pack during the 155 km third stage of the 101st edition of the Tour de France cycling race on July 7, 2014 between Cambridge and London, southwestern England. AFP PHOTO / JEFF PACHOUD (Photo credit should read JEFF PACHOUD/AFP/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 07: Peter Sagan of Slovakia and Cannondale takes the podium after defending the best young rider's white jersey in stage three of the 2014 Le Tour de France from Cambridge to London on July 7, 2014 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Germany's Marcel Kittel (L) celebrates as he crosses the finish line ahead of Slovakia's Peter Sagan (R) at the end of the 155 km third stage of the 101st edition of the Tour de France cycling race on July 7, 2014 between Cambridge and London, southwestern England. AFP PHOTO / LIONEL BONAVENTURE (Photo credit should read LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images)
France's Cyril Lemoine (L) wearing the best climber's polka dot jersey, and Italy's Vincenzo Nibali (C) wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey and Slovakia's Peter Sagan wearing the best sprinter's green jersey wait at the departure village in Cambridge prior to the start of the 155 km third stage of the 101st edition of the Tour de France cycling race on July 7, 2014 between Cambridge and London, southwestern England. AFP PHOTO / JEFF PACHOUD (Photo credit should read JEFF PACHOUD/AFP/Getty Images)
Amateur cyclists are pictured in front of the gate of the 'Fan Park' at the Green Park in London, on July 7, 2014, during the 155 km third stage of the 101st edition of the Tour de France cycling race between Cambridge and London, southwestern England. AFP PHOTO / ERIC FEFERBERG (Photo credit should read ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
Amateur cyclists are pictured in front of the gate of the 'Fan Park' at the Green Park in London, on July 7, 2014, during the 155 km third stage of the 101st edition of the Tour de France cycling race between Cambridge and London, southwestern England. AFP PHOTO / ERIC FEFERBERG (Photo credit should read ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
YORK, ENGLAND - JULY 06: Mikel Nieve of Spain and Team Sky ride looks on at the racecourse during stage one of the 2014 Tour de France from Leeds to Harrogate on July 6, 2014 in York, United Kingdom. (Photo by Scott Mitchell/teamsky.com via Getty Images)
People looks at the 155 km third stage of the 101st edition of the Tour de France cycling race on a giant screen at the 'Fan Park' at the Green Park in London, on July 7, 2014 between Cambridge and London, southwestern England. AFP PHOTO / ERIC FEFERBERG (Photo credit should read ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
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By Jamey Keaton

CHAMROUSSE, France (AP) - If Vincenzo Nibali was looking happier Friday after the Tour de France rode into the Alps, here's why: His top rival fell out of contention, he gained nearly a minute on his next-biggest challenger and oh, he won Stage 13 to boot.

On a sunbaked and melting Alpine road, the 29-year-old Italian, cemented his control of cycling's greatest race with a solo-finish victory that was an afterthought to gaining time on other title contenders.

Team Sky's Richie Porte, who began the day in second, saw his title hopes all but vanish after he lost about 9 minutes to Nibali on the last climb along the grueling 197.5-kilometer (122-mile) trek from Saint-Etienne to Chamrousse ski station.

Ever cautious, calm and understated after his stage win, Nibali noted that three big Alpine climbs still await Saturday and other punishing ascents are on tap in the Pyrenees next week.

"For the coming days, I only know that I have to remain quiet," he said.

But in the winner's circle, where he collected the yellow jersey for the 11th time this year, Nibali perhaps let slip a bit more happy emotion - knowing that a first Tour victory for an Italian since Marco Pantani in 1998 just got a little closer.

"I expect more attacks tomorrow in another very hard stage and next week," Nibali said. "My advantage over Porte is good now. He's the rider I feared the most in the closing time trial."

If Nibali's mountain dominance keeps up - on Monday, he won the only other high-mountain stage so far - the 54-kilometer (33-mile) time-trial in Stage 20 from Bergerac to Perigueux is the only real challenge left in his way.

The unexpected has gone Nibali's way. He surprised himself by winning an up-and-down Stage 2 stage in the hills and dales of Yorkshire and capturing his first Tour yellow jersey. He mastered cobblestone treachery in Stage 5, when 2012 Tour champ Chris Froome crashed out. And then, two-time Tour winner Alberto Contador went out five stages later after a fast downhill crash fractured his tibia.

In a sport where many dominant riders in past years later turned out to be drugs cheats, Nibali confronted the issue of doping a day earlier, saying he expected questions about it. "This theme belongs to the past," he said, crediting recent efforts like enhanced testing and the biological passport to clean it up.

This 101st Tour could become the third straight in which the winner locked up victory from before the halfway point. Last year, Froome was in yellow from the eighth stage onward. In 2012, Bradley Wiggins had the shirt for good after Stage 7.

Nibali took it in Stage 2, lost it in Stage 9, and regained it a day later. He's hoping to take it home after a largely ceremonial ride on the Champs-Elysees in Paris on July 27.

A comeback by a rival would be exceptional by recent standards. After the 13th stage last year, Froome had three other riders within minutes. In 2012, Wiggins had only two. After Friday's ride, no one is within three minutes of Nibali.

The first of two days in the snow-capped Alps lived up to its billing as the daunting final climb of 18 kilometers (12 miles) with an average 7.3 percent gradient shook up the overall standings.

The ride was hot: black tar on the recently resurfaced road to Chamrousse melted. Big crowds lined the route, including fans dressed as superheroes and one as a scantily clad Borat - the Sacha Baron Cohen film character.

As riders embarked on the final climb, the pack was mostly together and Valverde's Movistar team was pushing the pace. But when it hit the steepest part, Porte struggled and dropped off the back and Nibali briefly turned his head to look. Valverde attacked a short while later, but Nibali and the others reeled him in.

Nibali said he felt "better and better" as he climbed, despite the heat of more than 30 degrees Celsius (86 F). When the Italian saw "Richie Porte in trouble," he turned his attention to gaining time on Valverde, he said.

After two riders raced ahead, the Italian leader struck - jumping out of his saddle, and pedaling while standing in the upright riding position known in French as "la danseuse" or the dancer. He overtook them, and went on to win.

Porte's troubles also meant others climbed in the standings: France's Romain Bardet moved up to third, countryman Thibaut Pinot was fourth, and American Tejay van Garderen fifth.

Nibali appeared to be taking a risk that his effort to distance his rivals could come back to haunt him. By his own admission a day earlier, he said that he feared the second Alpine day more.

Saturday's 177-kilometer (110-mile) stage takes riders over three tough climbs from Grenoble to Risoul - including the Izoard pass that is one of the hardest under cycling's ranking system.

Some of his rivals seem to be accepting that Nibali may win.

"Vincenzo is the strongest rider in the race, but after him, there is a place to take," Bardet said, referring to the final podium.

Nibali "played it well", said FDJ.FR team manager Marc Madiot. "Now he can say 'I've got all the cards, I can do what I want, when I want and if you try to slap me, I give two slaps in return.'"

___

Greg Keller contributed from Chamrousse, France.

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