Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) won stage 13 of the Tour de France on Friday to solidify his grip on the yellow jersey.
Nibali was in a group of several GC contenders trying to chase down two escapees when he made his move with 6.6km left. After catching the two stage leaders — Leopold Konig (NetApp-Endura) and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) — moments later, Nibali rode with the pair until he launched his winning attack with just under 3.5km to go.
After his surge, which occurred on the HC climb of Chamrousse (18.2km, 7.3 percent average), Nibali kept up his tempo and rode solo the rest of the way to the summit finish of the 197.5km stage that began in Saint-Étienne.
“It’s a special day today. I’m very happy,” Nibali said. “I just wanted to gain some time, as much time as I could. I knew [Alejandro] Valverde and [Richie] Porte were close to me. In the end there was only Valverde and me. In the end I just felt stronger than Valverde. It was a hot day. It felt like I was in Palermo or Messina, my hometown.”
Majka finished second at 10 seconds back and Konig was one tick further behind in third.
Nibali now leads Valverde by 3:37 and Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) by 4:24 in the race for yellow.
The Chamrousse was the first HC climb in this year’s Tour, and it proved to be an exciting part of the race.
The stage was set earlier in the day, during the Cat. 1 ascent of col de Palaquit (14.1km, 6.1 percent average). Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale) broke away from an escape group at the front of the race and soloed up the climb, summiting first with 43km left and then plunging down the other side of the mountain. He remained at the front of the race at the base of the final climb, although the gap was tumbling.
With 16km remaining, De Marchi’s primary chaser Jan Bakelants (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) was caught by the peloton. Two kilometers later, De Marchi was swallowed up as the road continued to point toward the sky. Several groups were starting to form on the road as the riders cracked under the stress of the climb.
A 14-rider group of GC contenders was leading the stage until Thibault Pinot (FDJ.fr) launched an attack with 12km left, which completely fractured the group. Shortly after that, Konig and Majka jumped ahead and formed their two-man escape group.
Half a kilometer later, Alessandro Valverde (Movistar) broke away from the GC group, a move that prompted a Nibali response. Two others joined them — Pinot and Laurens ten Dam (Belkin) — and the four-man group began its chase of the leaders.
With Valverde trying to break Nibali, the Italian responded with 6.6km left with his bold attack that eventually led to his stage victory ride up the mountain.
It almost wasn’t meant to be for Nibali on Friday, as he lost teammate Jacob Fuglsang due to a crash on a fast descent ahead of the final climb. News reports say Fuglsang hit a water bottle in the road, which caused him to slide out and fall hard on his left side.
Fuglsang got back on his bike and finished the stage, but he was not there to help escort Nibali to the finish.
“It wasn’t an easy day for the team. We knew it was gonna be a tricky one for us, but we also knew it could be a good one for us,” Astana general manager Alexander Vinokourov said. “We lost Jacob [Fuglsang] who’s one of the strongest on the team. The other guys made it slightly easier after the last climb.”
Porte plummets in standings
Several riders slowed down because of the intense heat featured in stage 13. The most notable was Richie Porte (Sky), who began the stage 2:23 behind Nibali in second place.
Porte is now 11:11 behind Nibali in 16th place after suffering on the HC climb.
“He had a bad day. He didn’t react well with the heat,” Sky sport director Nicolas Portal said. “He said he felt like he was going to be sick. You can’t really do much. He just felt really empty. We’ll have some happier days. We’re not going to give up like that.”
Three riders exited the race during Friday’s stage. The first was Arthur Vichot (FDJ.fr), who was suffering from bronchitis. He left the race early in the stage.
FDJ sport director Thierry Bricaud spoke to letour.fr about Vichot’s exit.
“Arthur has been sick with bronchitis for five days,” Bricaud said. “We were hoping that the heat would help him to be healthy again. Yesterday, it was difficult for him to follow the rhythm and today, the fast start has been too much. It’s a pity. He would have had an important role alongside his best friend Thibaut Pinot in the coming days.”
At the feed zone later in the stage, two riders — Daniel Navarro (Cofidis) and Janier Acevedo (Garmin-Sharp) — pulled over and quit the race as well. Navarro could be seen struggling and grimacing as he swerved all over the road. When he reached the team car, which was already pulled over waiting for him, he got off his bike and fell into the arms of his sport director. He climbed into the car moments later and looked exhausted.
The race picks up with Saturday’s stage 14, a 177km journey from Grenoble to Risoul with three punishing climbs.