/ Cycling

Poland's Rafal Majka wins stage 14 of Tour de France

Updated: Saturday, 19 Jul 2014 17:31 | Comments

The pack, including race leader Vincenzo Nibali, head towards Risoul
The pack, including race leader Vincenzo Nibali, head towards Risoul

Vincenzo Nibali strengthened his stranglehold on the Tour de France when he gained further ground over his rivals in the second Alpine stage won by Poland's Rafal Majka TOday.

Astana rider Nibali finished the 14th stage, a 177-km mountain trek from Grenoble, in second place but beat Alejandro Valverde by one minute as the battle for second overall looks set to go to the wire.

Valverde trails Nibali by 4:37 overall with Romain Bardet in third place 13 seconds further back after he, fellow Frenchman Thibaut Pinot and American Tejay van Garderen dropped Valverde in the closing stages of the final climb to the ski resort of Risoul.

Pinot is fourth overall 5:06 off the pace, 43 seconds ahead of Van Garderen while another Frenchman, Jean-Christophe Peraud, is sixth (6:08) after taking third place in the stage.

Ireland's Nicolas Roche lies in 48th place overall, 01h 31' 52' off the pace, after finishing 70th today.

"I'm clearly happy because I took time on Valverde. It's a good sign that they're attacking me on the descents" - Thibaut Pinot

Bardet's AG2R-La Mondiale, whose ambition is to win the team classification and the white jersey for the best Under-25 rider, tried several coups on a nervous day.

Knowing that Pinot is cautious of speedy downhills, they pushed hard in the descent from the Col d'Izoard, at 2,360 metres the highest point of this year's Tour.

Bardet and Peraud, followed by Nibali and his team mate Jakob Fuglsang, went ahead. Valverde managed to bridge the gap, as well as Pinot although he struggled a lot.

"We did not just do it for Pinot, we did it for all the overall contenders. I said to my team to set a high pace in the descent because it's the way of racing that I like," said Bardet.

"I'm clearly happy because I took time on Valverde. It's a good sign that they're attacking me on the descents," said Pinot.

"They can't do it on the climbs, so they're targeting my weakness."

Van Garderen was dropped but eventually made it back into the yellow jersey group with the help of his BMC team mates.

AG2R set a high pace from the start of the final climb, a 12.6-km ascent at 6.9 per cent, while Majka showed he was the strongest in the breakaway group by going solo.

Nibali attacked the group of favourites at the 4-km banner and only Peraud could follow his wheel.

Behind, Valverde struggled and he could not sustain the pace set by Pinot and Van Garderen in the chasing group.

Majka was under threat by Nibali but he held firm to cross the line with a 24-second advantage.

It gave his Tinkoff-Saxo team something to cheer about after they lost team leader Alberto Contador last week after the Spaniard broke his shinbone crashing on a descent.

"We lost Alberto after putting a lot of efforts into this Tour, so we needed to win," team owner Oleg Tinkoff said in tears.

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