French riders sew up podium finish in Tour de France
Vincenzo Nibali confirmed he will win the Tour de France and two Frenchmen will join him on the podium after a dramatic penultimate stage on Saturday.
After his remarkable deeds in the mountains, Nibali finished the individual time trial in an impressive fourth place behind winner and German speedster Tony Martin, and padded his overall lead by more than 40 seconds to nearly eight minutes.
It’s mainly a ceremonial ride on Sunday to the Champs-Elysees, where Nibali is set to become the first Italian winner of the Tour since Marco Pantani in 1998.
Nibali reduced the drama on stage 20 to who would join him on the podium on Sunday.
Jean-Christophe Peraud and Thibaut Pinot will be the first Frenchmen on the podium since Richard Virenque in 1997.
They did enough to leave behind an unlucky Alejandro Valverde of Spain in their three-man race for the final podium. Only 15 seconds separated them when the stage began in Bergerac, but it became more than two minutes when the time trial finished in Perigueux.
Peraud, a 37-year-old former mountain bike racer, became tearful at the finish after learning he would be on the final podium: “It’s beautiful.”
Because Valverde had a bad day, Peraud – who even had a flat tyre and had to change bikes, losing about 20 seconds – and Pinot were able to eclipse him.
Among other changes, American Tejay van Garderen climbed a spot from sixth to fifth overall by overcoming a deficit of 2 minutes 7 seconds to Romain Bardet – by just two seconds. The young French rider lost key seconds after a flat tyre at the end of the stage.
Martin, the world time-trial champion, clobbered the field over the 54-km leg from Bergerac to Perigueux.
He finished 1:39 faster than Dutch rider Tom Dumoulin in second, and Czech Jan Barta was third, eight seconds slower.
Nibali was fourth, 1:58 behind the German, Van Garderen was sixth, 2:08 behind, and Peraud was seventh, 2:27 adrift.
Because the last stage is flat, and the teams of Nibali, Peraud and Pinot will be hawking over any breakaway attempts, the final stage, after more than 86 hours of racing, is a cruise which often features champagne bottles popping during the ride.