BERGERAC, France – Ramunas Navardauskas gave Lithuania and his American team, Garmin-Sharp, a stage victory Friday at the Tour de France.
Cycling’s great showcase seemingly has been reduced to a race for second place behind Italian Vincenzo Nibali of the Astana team.
Nibali, who has all but won the yellow jersey, cruised to the finish in Stage 19 in the rain-splattered pack behind Navardauskas. It probably would take a mishap of the highest order during Saturday’s time trial to deny Nibali victory in Paris on Sunday.
Frenchmen Thibaut Pinot of the FDJ.fr team and Jean-Christophe Peraud of AG2R La Mondiale and Spaniard Alejandro Valverde of the Movistar team are vying for second and third.
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Those places might be decided in Saturday’s 33.5-mile race against the clock from Bergerac to Perigueux. Relatively long by Tour standards, the time trial will require riders to maintain a steady rhythm.
Pinot is 7 minutes, 10 seconds behind Nibali. Peraud is 7:23 off the lead and Valverde is two seconds slower.
“Tomorrow is the most important stage of the Tour,” Pinot said.
In the time trial, the not-quite-flat course will require riders to muster all the strength they have left in legs that have suffered, strained and burned over three weeks — a trek that began in the hills and dales of Yorkshire, England, then covered cobblestones and ascended mountain peaks.
“There’s no real danger, it’s not too technical — it’s really power that will matter,” race director Thierry Gouvenou said of the time trial. “There’s just a little climb at the end, but after you’ve covered the Alps and the Pyrenees, it’s really a little climb.”
Three-time world time-trial champion Tony Martin, a German who competes for Omega Pharma — Quick-Step, is perhaps the favorite to win the stage, Gouvenou said, but “when you reach this part of the Tour de France, it’s really a question of freshness and what you have left in the tank.”