Astana's Vincenzo Nibali is a step closer to becoming just the sixth man to win all three of cycling's Grand Tours, destroying his rivals as he took his third stage victory of the 101st Tour de France at Chamrousse today, the first of two days in the Alps. An attack by Movistar's Alejandro Valverde 10.5 kilometres from the finish of Stage 13 blew apart the group containing the overall contenders, but when Nibali, one of the few able to respond to the Spaniard's move, lauched his assault 6 kilometres later, the Movistar rider was himself unable to respond.
Saxo-Tinkoff’s Rafa Majka and NetApp-Endura’s Leopold Konig finished second and third respectively today, 10 seconds down on Nibali, after being overhauled by the Italian after he made his stage-winning move.
The pair had got off the front of a select group of around 25 riders with around 11 kilometres remaining on the final, Hors-Categorie climb of the 197.5 kilometre stage from St-Etienne.
But it was Valverde’s move shortly afterwards that put riders including Porte into trouble. The Spaniard now takes the Sky rider’s place of second on the General Classification, but lost almost a minute to Nibali today, the gap between the pair standing at 3 minutes 37 seconds.
AG2R’s Romain Bardet appeared to be in trouble but dug in deep in the final kilometres to move into a podium position at third overall.
The Frenchman is leading the best young rider’s competition, and as he crossed the line, acknowledged the help given to him by a former winner of the white jersey, BMC Racing’s Tejay van Garderen, in helping him limit his losses.
Porte, accompanied by team mates Mikel Nieve and Geraint Thomas, rolled over the line nearly 9 minutes behind Nibali, Sky’s dreams of a third successive victory in tatters.
On a day when the temperature hit 40 degrees Celsius, a number of riders struggled, including Dani Navarro of Cofidis, weaving all over the road just 50 kilometres into the stage and abandoning the race on what is his 31st birthday.
While some may question whether Nibali would be dominating the race in the way he is were Alberto Contador and Chris Froome still in contention, the Italian’s performances in the first week show he is a worthy leader.
Today, the centenary of the birth of one of the legends of Italian cycling, Gino Bartali, the Sicilian is looking increasingly like becoming the first rider from the country to win the race since Marco Pantani did so in 1998.
Stage winner and race leader Vincenzo Nibali
I've suffered a lot today because of the heat. At least as we were climbing, I felt better and better. I've looked at my adversaries a lot. My intention was to just control in the final climb but when I've seen Richie Porte in trouble, probably because of the heat, which can happen to anyone, my goal has become to gain important seconds over Valverde.
I wanted to distance him in the overall classification. I accelerated to come across to the two breakaway riders [Rafal Majka and Leo König]. I've sought cooperation from them because there was a still long away and I also had in mind tomorrow's stage. Then I realized that [Alejandro] Valverde and Thibaut Pinot were coming across so I put the rhythm higher and that's how the victory arrived.
My team-mates have worked a lot in the first part of the race. The important riders remained on my side, Kangert, Westra… Unfortunately, Fuglsang crashed in the downhill of the second last climb but I got some news that he's ok. I'm very serene about the quality of my team.
It's a symbol that I win today on the 100th anniversary of Gino Bartali's birth but it's also the day [July 18] that Fabio Casartelli died. I remember this tragedy very well. It's important to have won on that special day. Bartali was Italy's iconic climber and I took the polka dot jersey today because there were many points awarded here but Joaquim Rodriguez will take it back in the coming days. My only goal remains the yellow jersey.
If I looked happier on the podium than on the occasions of my previous wins, it's because I was delighted to have gained important seconds over Valverde and Porte. My victory in Sheffield remains the less expected of the three. I did it with my instinct when there was so much distance to the finish. It was my first win at the Tour. Here in the mountains,
It's different because I was prepared for that. The victory has come as well but moreover I felt released from this never ending ascent. The high temperature had made it extremely hard. To win with the yellow jersey makes my stage victory more meaningful today.
I thought there would be some attacks against me. In fact, Movistar raised the rhythm at the beginning of the final climb but I was thinking it was quite far away from the top. With less and less elements in the front group, the race turned to my advantage. We were racing at a high level and everyone behaved according to their position on GC.
I expect more attacks tomorrow in another very hard stage and next week, there'll be very important stages. My advantage over Porte is good now. He's the rider I feared the most in the closing time trial. We'll see if he'll recover from the heat today or not. For the coming days, I only know that I have to remain quiet. There are still so many mountains ahead.
Today on the road side, I got the surprise to see Carlo Franceschi who was my sports director when I was a junior along with the president and other members of my fan-club. I've been asked why I wasn't racing with the Italian national champion but that's simply because I'm in the yellow jersey and winning with the yellow jersey makes my victory more prestigious. Anyway, the presence of those close supporters made me very happy. As for my wife, she'll only come and visit me at the end of the Tour de France in Paris.
Alejandro Valverde, second overall
I'm the one who attacked first. I rode full gas to do the best I could but when Nibali attacked I couldn't follow him. Tonight I'm second overall. It's very well. Nothing happened with Pinot. We both had our personal interests. Tomorrow will again be difficult. I will need to recover some strength.
Sir Dave Brailsford, Sky team principal
Obviously it was a blow losing Chris [Froome] when you come here to win the race. Certainly, seeing how Nibali is going it would have been an interesting race. And then we recalibrated to our plan B as it were and now we have to recalibrate again.
You've got to take account of the situation, not get too downbeat, there's a lot of racing to go. Let's see how the next few days go. We have to try to animate the race as much as we can and go from there.
Richie's disappointed and when you're disappointed it's not the time to start analysing. On the last climb, It was just a question of minimising his losses to be honest.
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.