Vincenzo Nibali cements Tour de France lead with stage 18 victory

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The final mountain stage of the 2014 Tour de France saw yellow jersey Vincenzo Nibali extend his overall lead, while the battle for the lower podium places was fought out behind him.

The Italian followed an attack by Lampre's Chris Horner, who beat him into second at last year's Vuelta a Espana, before soon accelerating away from the veteran rider and quickly catching and going past Mikel Nieve (Sky), who was the last remaining man from the day's early breakaway who had jumped ahead with Blei Kadri (Ag2r) on the penultimate climb of the Col du Tourmalet.

Race for the podium

However, arguably the day's real action was fought out behind Nibali, with the two other podium places being fought out amongst three riders - Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), Thibaut Pinot (FD) and Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r).

When Nibali attacked, there was no real reaction from the other GC contenders, with KOM leader Rafal Majka (Saxo-Tinkoff) the first rider to respond. With Nibali winning, the young Pole could afford to finish no lower than sixth on the day if he was to keep his jersey, which he was successful in doing so.

The first big move from this group came with six kilometres to go, when only eight riders remained. Pinot accelerated, drawing Tejay Van Garderen (BMC) and Peraud with him, whilst putting Valverde out the back of the group. The Spaniard was able to claw his way back to the riders in front of him, though, and proceeded to set the tempo for the remainder of the climb.

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Ahead, Pinot was given assistance from Van Garderen, sixth overall, who with his time trialling ability probably saw the chance to overtake fifth-placed Romain Bardet (Ag2r), who was in the Valverde group.

They caught Maka with three km to go. Majka made another effort in the sprint for second but was overtaken by Pinot in the final 100m, as the Young Rider classification leader gained a few seconds on his compatriots.

Pinot crossed the line 1-10 behind Nibali, finishing five seconds ahead of Peraud and 49 ahead of Valverde, who slipped from second overall to fourth behind Pinot and Peraud after being jumped by the other riders in his small group in the final few hundred meters.

With only 13 seconds separating second and fourth on GC, this Saturday's decisive 54km time trial is sure to be interesting.

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