Bradley Wiggins all but secured the Tour de France on Thursday at Peyragudes after Alejandro Valverde won stage 17.
Valverde (Movistar) escaped from a breakaway on the hors categorie Port de Balès and rode to the Tour’s final summit finish alone.
It was the Spaniard’s fourth career victory on the race, and his first since 2008.
Behind the Spaniard, Vincenzo Nibali and Liquigas-Cannondale were aggressive all day, but the Sicilian could not shake Wiggins and Sky teammate Chris Froome. In the end, Nibali ceded 18 seconds to the British tandem on the finale ramp to the plateau.
“The minute we went over the Peyresourde I knew that was it. I felt fantastic,” said Wiggins. “I went on the front, but I lost concentration… A lot of things going through my head at that point.”
The lost concentration wouldn’t set Wiggins back, however, and he came over the finish line of the 143.5km stage between Bagneres-de-Luchon and Peyragudes on the wheel of Froome 19 seconds later. The pair had led a frantic chase of Valverde on the day’s fifth and final climb, but Valverde dug deep to hold off the British pair.
Froome said that they didn’t know how far ahead Valverde was on the final climb, but a lagging Nibali gave the pair motivation.
“We weren’t here for stages, we were here for the yellow jersey,” said Froome when asked whether he could have won a second stage had he not backed off the pace on the finish climb to pace Wiggins. “That wasn’t my objective today. When we heard Vincenzo was dropping off the back of the group, that was good motivation.”
Defending champion Cadel Evans, who lost nearly five minutes to Wiggins on Wednesday’s 16th stage to drop to seventh overall, lost more time after struggling to hold the pace inside the final few kilometers. Evans’ teammate, Tejay van Garderen, held tight and finished eighth, at 54 seconds, to defend his lead in the best young rider competition and move to fifth overall.
Wiggins will go into Friday’s 18th stage from Blagnac to Brive-La-Gaillarde with his 2:05 lead on Froome intact.
Nibali lost a handful of seconds to Jurgen Van den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol), but remains third overall with a three-minute cushion on the Belgian, who is fourth.
The 19th and penultimate stage Saturday is a 53.5km time trial in which Wiggins and Froome, who were first and second on the stage 9 time trial, are favorites for the stage and the defend their overall placings.
“You’d put your house on me not losing that sort of time. It’s looking good at the time,” said Wiggins of his 2:05 lead over Froome and 2:41 to Nibali.
“You only have to win the Tour by one second. That would do me.”
The race finishes in Paris on Sunday.
Editor’s Note: Keep your browser pointed to VeloNews.com for more from stage 17 of the Tour de France. Agence France Presse contributed to this report.