Chris Froome and Alberto Contador left the Tour de France long ago, but it appears Vincenzo Nibali is still competing against the two pre-race favorites. On a day when Nibali could have just followed wheels, he chose instead to attack midway up the steep slopes of the stage 18 Hautacam finishing climb on Thursday. Perhaps Nibali was trying to prove that even if the two former Tour winners had been around, he would still have taken yellow into Paris.
Whatever the case, to absolutely no one's surprise, no one could match the Italian's torrid pace. Nibali (Astana) caught the remnants of the day's early breakaway, then twisted the throttle all the way to the finish, crossing the line in 4:04:17, a full 70 seconds ahead of second place finisher Thibaut Pinot (FDJ.fr). That upped Nibali's GC advantage to 7:10 ahead of new second place occupant Pinot, who managed to gap former second place rider Alejandro Valverde on the 13.6km climb that averaged 7.8%. See stage 18 results here.
STAGE 18 PHOTOS
The 2014 Tour de France concluded its trip through the high mountains on Thursday. First up were the precipitous slopes of the menacing Col du Tourmalet. Photo by Graham Watson
Race leader Vincenzo Nibali sat comfortably among the other podium contenders during the first climb of the 145.5km stage. But things got a little more interesting during the day's final ascent. Photo by Graham Watson
But first Nibali and company had to chase down Alejandro Valverde, who attempted an escape on the descent of the Tourmalet. The move proved fruitless and all the GC contenders were back together at the bottom of the Hautacam. Photo by Graham Watson
Team BMC did its best to keep team leader Tejay van Garderen near the front. Here Greg Van Avermaet descends the Col du Tourmalet during Stage 18. Photo by Graham Watson
American Chris Horner launched an attack out of the GC group early on the climb up the Hautacam. But it was quickly neutralized by Nibali, who came around the Lampre-Merida rider and sailed away solo toward the finish. Photo by Graham Watson
After easily dispatching his would-be GC foes, Nibali blasted through the remnants of the day's primary breakaway, dropping them all. Photo by Graham Watson
At the finish, it was just Nibali and the follow cars. It was the Italian's fourth stage win in what's become an absolutely dominating performance. He now leads second placed rider Thibaut Pinot by more than 7 minutes. Photo by Graham Watson
Behind Nibali, the other podium contenders each took their cracks at distancing foes. Here American Tejay van Garderen puts in a hard dig. Photo by Graham Watson
Ultimately Thibaut Pinot was second across the finish line, 70 seconds behind Nibali. Photo by Graham Watson
Rafal Majka (foreground) slotted third, sewing up the polka dot climber's jersey competition for his Tinkoff-Saxo team. Photo by Graham Watson
STAGE 18 GALLERY