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PERIGUEUX, France – Finally cracking broad smiles after weeks of no-nonsense racing, Italian Vincenzo Nibali of the Astana team confirmed he will win the Tour de France after another impressive ride in a dramatic penultimate stage Saturday.

Nibali all but ensured he will be crowned Tour champion for the first time thanks to winning the last mountain stage Thursday. But a desire to leave little to chance, even with the biggest overall lead in 17 years, saw him push himself in the individual time trial for fourth place behind winner and German speedster Tony Martin of the Omega Pharma — Quick-Step team.

Nibali leads second-place Jean-Christophe Peraud, a Frenchman who competes for the AG2R La Mondiale team, by 7 minutes, 52 seconds.

At a news conference, race organizers introduced Nibali as “the winner of the 2014 Tour de France.”

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Nibali got the leader’s yellow jersey on the second stage almost three weeks ago, and has worn it for all but two stages. A largely ceremonial final ride into Paris awaits Sunday.

“It’s really difficult to explain all the emotions that I’ve gone through in these last three weeks. But as time goes by, maybe I’ll find the words to describe what I’m feeling,” Nibali said through a translator. “Perhaps on the Champs-Elysees, I’ll realize a little bit more.

“This year was a great race. It was almost made to measure for me.”

It appears Peraud will finish second and countryman Thibaut Pinot of the team will be third. If so, it will be the first time in 30 years two French riders will be on the top-three podium in Paris.

Peraud, 37, the silver medalist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, said, “Now I can retire.”

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