Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) won stage 10 and confirmed his status as the man to beat in this year’s Tour de France. The Italian national champion’s main challenger, Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), crashed out of the Tour midway through a fearsome day of climbing in the Vosges mountains.
“This was the hardest stage I’ve ever done in a Grand Tour, with seven climbs and so many crashes,” Nibali said. “I was very sad that Contador had that really nasty crash. I hope that he has a good recovery. There was nothing that I could do about it. I was only about three meters away when that happened to him. Scarponi also had a nasty crash, and I managed to get past. That was the one thing I was really scared about was a crash. I thought, ‘It could have been me.’”
Rarely displaying any concern or effort throughout the stage, Nibali relied on a dominant team effort to keep a nine-rider breakaway within striking distance. On the steep slopes of the final climb, the stage’s seventh categorized ascent, Nibali rode away from a select group, catching the remaining breakaway riders and winning alone atop La Planche des Belles Filles.
Bastille Day breakaway
Before the race even reached the 10 kilometer mark, ten riders gained a 1:30 advantage on the peloton in advance of the day’s first categorized climb.
The attack was started by Lieuwe Westra (Astana). He was joined by Giovanni Visconti (Movistar), Christophe Riblon (AG2R), Amaël Moinard (BMC Racing), Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Markel Irizar (Trek Factory Racing), and Arnaud Gérard (Bretagne-Séché), with Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Peter Sagan (Cannondale), and Jan Barta (NetApp-Endura) trailing 30 seconds behind.
Michal Kwiatkowski and Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Rein Taaramäe (Cofidis), Reto Hollenstein and Marcel Wyss (both IAM Cycling) went away from the peloton on the descent from the top of the Col du Firstplan, eventually bridging up to the lead group.
By the time the leaders had reached the Col du Platzerwasel — a category 1 climb, about 70km into the race — the break had sorted out, losing a few riders like Sagan and Irizar and ending up with a group of nine: Visconti, Rodriguez, Kwiatkowski, Martin, Riblon, Taaramäe, Wyss, Voeckler, and Moinard.
Along the way, Rodriguez dedicated his efforts to challenging the break on every king of the mountains sprint, collecting the majority of the points on offer in that competition. Despite challenges from Voeckler, the Spaniard wrested the jersey from Tony Martin, who wore the polka-dots during the stage after his solo exploit on stage 9.
“I had to work very hard,” Rodriguez said. “It was a very tough day for me. This [polka-dot jersey] is what I’m after. I’m in good shape after this stage. Keeping the jersey is the most important goal for me. I’d like to win a stage as well.”
Contador crashes out
On a descent off the Markstein, around 62 kilometers in, Contador hit a pothole, crashed and eventually withdrew from the race after suffering a nasty gash to his right knee.
“I saw him [Contador] crash right in front of me,” Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) told Spanish radio. “His handlebars slipped when he hit a pothole. I realized at the feed zone that he abandoned.”
The race doctor attempted to patch him up, and Contador changed bikes and a shoe before attempting to continue the race.
Contador had lost around four minutes on the peloton by this time. And despite five teammates dropping back to help pace him up the Col du Platzerwasel, he continued losing time.
Around 15 kilometers later, about halfway through the stage, Contador shared a hug with chief lieutenant Michael Rogers before stopping by the side of the road and climbing into a team car, visibly in pain.
After the stage, team officials confirmed that Contador suffered a fractured tibia, and will require surgery.
Break comes undone on the Col des Chevreres
After riding relentlessly at the front of the group to support Kwiatkowski, Martin dropped spectacularly on Col des Chevreres, leaving his teammate, the leader in the young rider competition, to his own devices.
The young Pole didn’t hesitate to take matters into his own hands, riding away from the rest of the break, followed only by Rodriguez on the 18 percent grades of the penultimate climb.
Rodriguez attacked with 19 kilometers to go. Kwiatkowski began to fade towards the top of the climb and was caught by Visconti and Moinard before the summit.
Kwiatkowski made a daring descent off the Col des Chevreres, catching Rodriguez and reaching Plancher-les-Mines with a 14 second advantage over Visconti before hitting the days final ascent.
Up La Planche des Belles Filles
As the two leaders began the last climb, they had a 1:30 lead over the chasing group containing Vincenzo Nibali. Rodriguez was not satisfied with that gap and attacked Kwiatkowski with 5.3km remaining.
Behind, the yellow jersey wearer, Gallopin, had let the gap to the front of the race extend to a little over 3 minutes.
Kwiatkowski lost time quickly to Rodriguez on the final climb. At 3.5 kilometers to go, the gap between the stage leader and the white jersey wearer was out to 28 seconds.
Nibali’s chasing group was also making headway on the young Pole, and it included Richie Porte (Sky), Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Chris Horner (Lampre-Merida), Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Lotto-Belisol), world champion Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), and Tejay van Garderen (BMC).
As the group reached 2.3 kilometers to go, Nibali attacked the group and quickly caught Kwiatkowski.
“I was just trying to hang on,” van Garderen said. “When he [Nibali] went, I knew that if I tried to go, I would probably blow up. So I had to stick with some more steady riders like Richie Porte. Toward the end, I tried to give it a go. But then I think I went a little too early.”
At 1.2km to go, Nibali, churning away at the pedals, caught Rodriguez, whose efforts appeared to be flagging. But Rodriguez would not allow Nibali to go so easily, latching onto the Italian champion’s rear wheel, desperate to win the stage. It was not meant to be, as Nibali kicked again, inside one kilometer to go, and rode solo to victory.
“I thought Purito [Rodriguez] would follow me but he gave up in the final meters,” Nibali said. “I knew it would be a very tough day but I’m very happy … The team protected me well throughout the stage. It was wet and dangerous, requiring maximum concentration. The last two or three kilometers was the right time to attack. It wasn’t easy, but of course I am happy to win, and to solidify my position on GC. It was unfortunate for Alberto to crash. Everyone was ready for a big fight. Without him the race will change for sure, but there are other dangerous rivals”
Kwiatkowski finished 2:13 in arrears, losing the white jersey to Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale). “I want to say thank you to Tony [Martin],” said Kwiatkowski. “What he did is just incredible. I had so much time advantage before the second to last climb. I just didn’t have the legs to finish it.”
Nibali’s efforts got him back into the race lead. Australian Porte moved up to second overall at 2:23, after finishing seventh on the stage. Valverde rounded out the podium in third at 2:47.
American van Garderen is back into the top-10 at seventh place, 3:56 behind Nibali.
Tony Gallopin’s brief ride in yellow came to an end, as he finished 4:46 down to drop to fifth overall at 3:12.
“It was my worst day on a bike,” Gallopin said. “Four hours of suffering … Every climb was an ordeal. I really did everything I could but I paid for my efforts last week and yesterday. I’m sorry. Even though it was hard and I had no illusions, I was still hoping to keep it deep inside. It was beyond my strength, I gave it my all.”