Vincenzo Nibali of Astana has won Stage 10 of the Tour de France at La Planche des Belles Filles and is back in the race lead on another dramatic day’s racing that saw his chief rival for the overall victory, Tinkoff’s Saxo’s Alberto Contador, abandon due to a fractured tibia sustained in a crash that came with around 100 kilometres left to ride. The Italian champion attacked from the overall contenders' group with 3 kilometres of the final climb remaining and caught and overhauled Katusha's Joaquin Rodriguez ahead of the flamme rouge on his way to a solo win.
Thibaut Pinot of FDJ.fr came second, 15 seconds behind Nibali, with Movistar's Alejandro Valverde third, a further 5 seconds back. The latter now lies third overall, 24 seconds behind second-placed Richie Porte of Team Sky, who himself lies 2 minutes 23 minutes down on the race leader.
Approaching the halfway point of the race, Nibali, winner in Sheffield on Stage 2 and third on the Paris-Roubaix Cobbles on Stage 5 once again took time from his rivals as he seeks to be just the sixth man to have won all three of cycling's Grand Tours. In this most unpredictable of races, however, he will be taking nothing for granted.
What is certain following Contador’s exit is that the Tour de France will have a new name on its list of champions this year. The Spaniard is the third former winner to leave the race this year after Andy Schleck and defending champion Chris Froome.
Today’s route, ridden under grey clouds and intermittent rain, featured seven categorised climbs, three of them Category 1 including the final ascent to the finish. A break of 12 riders got away early on, including Tony Martin of Omega Pharma-Quick Step, who yesterday claimed the stage win in Mulhouse after a 60 kilometre solo ride.
This afternoon, the German was working for a team mate in the break, Michal Kwiatkowski, putting in some enormous turns at the front and peeling off as the riders headed onto the penultimate climb, the Category 1 Col des Chevrères.
Also in the group were Europcar’s Thomas Voeckler and Rodriguez, the pair tussling for some of the mountain points on offer but the Spaniard coming out on top and getting into the polka dot jersey he has coveted since dropping out of overall contention.
Rodriguez and Kwiatkowski hit the final climb to La Planche des Belles Filles together, with around a minute and a half over the group containing Nibali, and overnight leader Gallopin a similar margin behind the Italian having lost contact on the previous climb as he tried in vain to hold onto the yellow jersey that he at least got to wear on Bastille Day.
Contador, confirmed this evening as having fractured his fibia, crashed with a little less than 100 kilometres to go on the descent ahead of the Category 1 climb of the Col du Platzerwasel.
Waiting while the race doctor bandaged his bloodied knee, Contador was losing time to Nibali as the group he had been with rode off, although the Italian’s team checked their pace so as not to take advantage of the two-time Tour de France winner’s misfortune.
Nibali showed no mercy to the breakaway riders, however, once it was confirmed that Contador had abandoned the race with 8- kilometres left, reeling them in one by one until only Rodriguez was left ahead, nor did he show clemency to the other overall contenders when he broke away with them with 3 kilometres remaining as he headed to his second stage win of a race in which he increasingly looks like the champion in waiting.
Stage winner Vincenzo Nibali, back in the race lead
This is a wonderful victory, thanks to a great team work, especially by Michele Scarponi in the finale. It's been a very demanding 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.
As I crossed the line, I've dedicated it to my baby girl. I speak with my wife every day on the phone and she told me that Emma becomes silent and opens her eyes wide when she hears my voice on TV.
I feel sorry for Alberto Contador. He crashed just in front of me and I've been scared that I'd go down as well but I don't know why he crashed. I've just seen that it was a heavy fall. We stopped pedalling for a while. I spoke with Richie Porte, I also spoke with my team car, but Tony Martin was 4.30 ahead, so we've had to ride again.
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. I think that my performance today was of a very high level, similar to the 2013 Giro d'Italia. With my coach Paolo Slongo, we've prepared for the Tour at perfection in order to reach the top level here.
Before the Dauphiné, I went to Tenerife for a training camp with all my team-mates for the Tour. We did an intense work there. At the Dauphiné, I was well 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 a specific work.
I've done some changes of rhythm in the climbs behind Slongo's motorbike because I knew I would have to fight against Contador in steep uphill finishes here. ShouldI win the Tour, it'll be difficult to say I wonbecause Chris Froome and Contador have crashed. I already had a good lead and I was ready to fight in a big duel with Alberto.
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.
Joaquin Rodriguez, new mountains classification leader
This was an important day for me because there were many points up for grab in the KOM competition. At the end, there has been one kilometre too much for me to win the stage.
But the crash of Alberto Contador is a bigger disaster. He is a very active rider and he would have fired up the race in the Pyrenees.
I've missed out on the stage win for a very little but I also lost by a lot compared to Nibali who was super strong. I was aware that my advantage was probably not enough for winning the stage. Two minutes' lead in the second last climb was too tight.
I haven't decided yet if my goal will be the polka dot jersey or a stage win. One goal is a call for the other one. In the mountains, I'll have to break away for collecting points and that's also the best thing to do for winning a stage.
Tony Martin, on the break again
That wasn't part of a plan, really. After the first climb, we started riding well in the downhill. Kwiatkowski was right behind me. I told him to keep my wheel and that we'd try to get him gain time on GC. There was a chance to succeed.
At the end of the day, it didn't work out but it was worth trying. My goal was to lead him till the bottom of the second last climb. I gave 100% for that. Once there I was left with no more energy. Fortunately, I had a small gear that I could use, otherwise I would have been forced to stop.
Romain Bardet, who takes the lead in teh best young rider's contest
This was a very hard day. Many things happened, including Contador's retirement, which is a pity for the spectacle. For now I'm fourth on GC at the rest day but I don't want to be caught up in the moment. Last year I managed to do well in the third week of the Tour.
It has to be the case again this year in order to achieve my goal, which is the top ten overall. I wore the white jersey at the beginning of the Tour when Sagan was the leader but it's completely different to get it here. When Kwiatkowski went away, I knew it was all or nothing. Either he was going to increase his lead, or he'd crack at the end and that's what happened.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.