CHAMROUSSE, France – If Vincenzo Nibali of the Astana team was looking happier Friday after the Tour de France field rode into the Alps, here is why: His top rival fell out of contention, he gained nearly a minute on his next-biggest challenger and, oh, he also won the 13th stage.
On a sunbaked and melting Alpine road, the 29-year-old Italian cemented his control of cycling’s greatest race with a solo-finish victory that was an afterthought to gaining time on other title contenders.
Team Sky’s Richie Porte, an Australian who began the day in second place, saw his title hopes all but vanish after he lost about nine minutes to Nibali on the last climb along the grueling 122.6-mile journey from Saint-Etienne to Chamrousse ski station.
The ride was hot: black tar on the recently resurfaced road to Chamrousse melted.
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Nibali completed the stage in 5 hours, 12 minutes, 29 seconds.
Cautious and understated after his stage victory, Nibali noted three big Alpine climbs await Saturday and other punishing ascents are on tap in the Pyrenees next week.
“For the coming days, I only know that I have to remain quiet,” he said.
Nibali is seeking the first Tour victory for an Italian since Marco Pantani in 1998.
“I expect more attacks tomorrow in another very hard stage and next week,” Nibali said. “My advantage over Porte is good now. He’s the rider I feared the most in the closing time trial.”
If Nibali’s mountain dominance keeps up — on Monday, he won the only other high-mountain stage so far — the 33.5-mile time trial from Bergerac to Perigueux in the second-to-last stage is the biggest challenge left for him in the 21-stage Tour.
Nibali leads second-place Alejandro Valverde, a Spaniard who rides for the Movistar team, by 3 minutes, 37 seconds.