Nibali effectively wins Tour de France as race heads to Paris
As the Tour de France enters Paris on Sunday July 27th for the final stage of the race, Italian Vincenzo Nibali has built up such a huge lead that only an unprecedented disaster will stop him winning.
The Italian has been totally dominant throughout the Tour, and has spent only two days out of the leader’s Yellow Jersey. Nibali’s winning margin of 7 minutes 52 seconds is the greatest since the 1997 event.
Whilst the route of the race changes every year, the final stage always remains the same; a gentle and ceremonial ride to the outskirts of Paris and then a frantic series of laps around the famous Champs-Elysees culminating in a sprint finish. Although the Yellow Jersey competition will not change, there is still glory for one of the sprinters to be had on the Champs-Elysees.
Peter Sagan only has to finish to claim the sprinters’ Green Jersey, however he has not won a stage so far and is fourth in the odds at 12/1. Marcel Kittel, who dominated the sprint stages early on in the Tour, is the odds-on favourite at 4/6 but has been anonymous in recent stages; he may be too tired after the mountains. Alexander Kristoff, third in the market at 6/1, sprinted to win stages 12 and 15 in-between the mountains, and may be fresher than Sagan and Kittle. He could be the man to beat.
In contrast, all Nibali has to do now is cross the finish line to win his first Tour de France. He first showed signs of what was to come on stage 2, with a brilliantly timed attack in Sheffield to take the stage and Yellow Jersey. He produced another domineering ride on stage 5, putting a huge two and half minute gap between himself and Spaniard Alberto Contador. It was when the Tour reached the high mountains, however, that Nibali really showed the form he was carrying.
Victory in stage 10 followed, but it was stage 13 where Nibali gained another huge chunk of time and now lead the race by three and half minutes. The following day, stage 14, he finished second but gained another minute. At this point he had already essentially won the race, and would have only had to finish with his rivals to still win comfortably.
For Nibali, however, it would not be enough to simply win. Another second place on stage 17 extended his lead by another minute. It was then, on the final mountain stage of the Tour, on the famous climbs of Col du Tourmalet and Hautacam, that he was to produce his greatest ride of the race. Already all but assured of victory, he jumped away from everyone else and rode the final 9km alone to win stage 18 by over a minute, as his rivals dropped even further back.
The time trail on the penultimate stage was simply a formality at this point. Nibali managed a respectable fourth place, with German Tony Martin, the World Time Trial Champion, producing an expectedly dominant display to win the stage.
And so that concluded the general fight for the Yellow Jersey, a fight which Nibali never looked threatened in. Some might suggest that he actually won the Tour on stages 5 and 10, where defending champion Chris Froome and Contador respectively crashed out of the race. However, Nibali has looked so strong and superior throughout that it is hard to imagine how either Froome or Contador could have held him in check. Certainly it would have been a truly spectacular sight to see the three of them battling for victory, an event this Tour was sadly deprived of.