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In Alps, Nbali again dominates Tour de France



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.

Join the discussion

1000|Char. 1000  Char.
ktlb4 July 19 2014 at 1:57 PM

WOW, learn to at least spell his name correctly.

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1 reply
rockymtnhikerCo ktlb4 July 20 2014 at 7:43 AM

to ktlb4,i kin spell WOW forwards or backardsWOW,see?.I'm fom Crawferd Txazz,and GW Bush left this child behind.At least I can draws a cat or dog in crayon like George does.:-) good ole lance is a dumblican,he prolly feels cheated by losing all 7 of his ill-begotten titles,while the majority of riders are clean

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killkubota July 19 2014 at 4:49 PM

Is this still a juiced sport?

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petpetdon July 19 2014 at 5:19 PM

They should have run this the same time as the World Cup then we would have two boring events NOT to watch.

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2 replies
Lillian petpetdon July 19 2014 at 5:28 PM

You sound like someone who plays golf.

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rockymtnhikerCo petpetdon July 20 2014 at 7:36 AM

petpetdon,its couch potatoes like you who are boring

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Bruce July 19 2014 at 10:22 PM

Has he pee'd in a cup, yet? You always have to look a little askance at these guys who put on super-human performances...

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Blackyori July 19 2014 at 10:49 PM

Tour still sucks since Armstrong days at least those were fun to watch. Doping or not the top riders treated each other with respect and would not attack a rival that had a fall or mechanical problem unlike Contador a few years ago. Clean? Who cares it's boring now.

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supermolar July 19 2014 at 10:54 PM

test him for drugs

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1 reply
rockymtnhikerCo supermolar July 20 2014 at 8:23 AM

DUH! why supermolar,do you suspect cheating of some sort? If Vincenzo is found to have chedted,his title wil be stripped if he does in fact win,hopefully he has honor that lance never did

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rockymtnhikerCo July 20 2014 at 7:34 AM

Vincenzo Nibali,i want you to win man,you better not be doping(cheating) like good ole TXazz boy lance armsweak. I am a native of Colorado,and ride mtn and road bicycles,and have been made stronger by facing challenging the high country passes here.I'm itred of hearing about all the dopers who feel the need to cheat to win.Oh,folks,Lance sells questionable hot dogs as an unlicensed vendor.LOL I wouldn't feed his cr@p to my dog.

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rockymtnhikerCo July 20 2014 at 7:35 AM

tired,sorry

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