Nibali increases Tour lead in Stage 17
Saint-Lary Pla d'Adet, France (SportsNetwork.com) - Vincenzo Nibali of Italy increased his overall lead at the Tour de France on Wednesday with a strong third-place finish in Stage 17.
Poland's Rafal Majka won the stage, a short and grueling 124.5-kilometer mountain trek through the Pyrenees, finishing atop the Pla d'Adet in a time of 3 hours, 35 minutes and 23 seconds. It was his second stage win of the 2014 Tour, as he captured Stage 14 last week in the Alps.
Italy's Giovanni Visconti was 29 seconds behind in second place, while Nibali made a move to distance himself from his nearest competitors in the overall classification with an attack near the conclusion on the highest category climb. He finished third for the stage -- 46 seconds behind the winner.
Nibali started the day 4 minutes and 37 seconds in front of Alejandro Valverde and now owns an advantage of 5:26 over the Spaniard, who was another 49 seconds behind the winner in 10th on Wednesday.
"I've got a nice lead, but considering (Thursday's) stage to Hautacam and the time trial, I preferred to go and gain a few more seconds and be even more serene, just in case something would happen," Nibali said about why he decided to attack rather than remain with the other top riders.
Frenchmen Thibaut Pinot, Jean-Christophe Peraud and Romain Bardet occupy the next three places. Pinot, who was 11th on Wednesday, is six minutes behind Nibali, while Peraud finished alongside Nibali on Wednesday and remains another eight seconds behind. Bardet is 7:34 off the pace after placing 12th on Wednesday.
American Tejay Van Garderen is still sixth overall after finishing alongside Pino and Bardet on Wednesday.
A trio of Category 1 climbs preceded the highest category finish on Wednesday, the shortest non-time trial stage of the 2014 Tour.
Heading up the final ascent of the Pla d'Adet were four riders, including Visconti, who left the group with about nine kilometers remaining. Majka, though, caught him with four kilometers left and the two stayed together until the Polish rider took off with about 2 1/2 kilometers to go and was not caught.
"I'm just so happy about this result and the results that we have accomplished in the last couple of days," said Majka, who owns the polka dot jersey as the leader in the mountains classification.
Nibali had the yellow jersey group a few minutes behind the lead pack at the start of the final ascent, but Peraud pulled away and only the yellow jersey was able to keep up, leaving Valverde with a struggle to maintain his second overall position.
"I was able to recover my rhythm and to limit the damage with Nibali and Peraud," said Valverde. "It's true that I have close rivals in Pinot and Peraud, but Peraud is the one I fear the most because he's very good in time trials."
Stage 18 on Thursday is the last of three days in the Pyrenees and the 145.5 kilometers from Pau to Hautacam features two climbs of the highest category -- the first up the Col du Tourmalet before a finish at the top of the Hautacam.
07/23 13:12:10 ET