Italian Vincenzo Nibali tightened his grip on the Tour de France on Monday, reclaiming the yellow jersey with a solo victory on the 10th stage as his main rival Alberto Contador crashed out.
Astana rider Nibali, who is looking to complete his set of grand tour titles after winning the Vuelta and the Giro, attacked in the final climb, a brutal 5.9-km ascent to La Planche des Belles Filles and never looked back.
France’s Thibaut Pinot took second place 15 seconds back with Spain’s Alejandro Valverde in third place 20 seconds off the pace.
Spaniard Contador, Tour winner in 2007 and 2009, suffered a broken shinbone and would undergo surgery according to the organizers’ medical statement, adding that he also suffered an elbow problem.
There was no TV footage of the accident, but Nibal witnessed it first hand.
“It happened in a descent, the asphalt was not in good condition. He was behind me but then passed me and three seconds later he fell off in front of me. It was spectacular, we were around 60 kph,” the Italian champion said.
“I was just behind and for a moment I thought my Tour could be over too.”
After being treated by doctors, Contador got back on his bike but after climbing the category-one Col du Platzerwasel with the help of his Tinkoff-Saxo team mates, he dismounted and stepped into his team car.
“Alberto crashed badly. His right knee is seriously injured. The crash has been violent. I have his shoe with me, it’s completely destroyed,” said Contador’s sports director Philippe Mauduit.
“Before pulling out, he told us he was in awful pain and he couldn’t go any further on his bike. It’s a pity because everything had gone well since the beginning of the Tour. We had a plan and today’s race was unfolding exactly as we wanted,” added Mauduit.
Contador was the second top favourite to pull out of this year’s race after reigning champion Chris Froome of Britain crashed during the fifth stage.
Froome sent his rival a message of support on Twitter, recognising Contador’s exit was a “big loss for the TDF today.”
“Recover well @albertocontador and I hope to see you at the Vuelta,” added the Briton, referring to Contador’s home race in Spain.
Nibali now leads Australian Richie Porte, who took over as Team Sky leader after Froome's departure.
Valverde of the Movistar team is third overall, 2:47 off the pace.
France have three riders in fourth, fifth and sixth place overall in Romain Bardet, Tony Gallopin and Pinot.
Tuesday is the Tour’s first rest day and it could not come at a better time after Monday’s ordeal.
Seven categorized climbs were on the itinerary and riders once again faced torrential rain in the Vosges region.
Earlier, Joaquim Rodriguez had rejoined the breakaway group in the first ascent of the day, the Col du Firstplan, as the Spaniard is looking to win the polka dot jersey for the points classification.
The 10-man pack built a comfortable lead and Slovakian Peter Sagan attacked in the descent to collect 20 points at the intermediate sprint, further strengthening his lead in the points classification.
Pole Michal Kwiatkowski jumped in a counter-attacking group led by his Omega Pharma-Quick Step team mate Tony Martin, winner of Sunday’s ninth stage, but he cracked in the end, surrendering the white jersey for the best Under-25 rider to Bardet.
Nibali, who had surrendered the yellow jersey to Gallopin on Sunday, powered away from a group of favourites three kilometres from the finish and quickly caught Rodriguez and dropped him.
Behind him, Pinot, who lives in the region, went on the attack to claim a handful of seconds on Valverde and Porte as the race for the podium looks wide open.
Even though recent crashes suggest nothing will be done until the very end, Nibali is firmly on track to become the sixth man to win all three grand tours after Contador, Frenchmen Bernard Hinault and Jacques Anquetil, Italy’s Felice Gimondi and Belgian Eddy Merckx.
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