Nibali takes back lead as Contador crashes out
Italy's Vincenzo Nibali wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey waits for the start of the 170 km ninth stage of the 101st edition of the Tour de France cycling race on July 13, 2014 - by Eric Feferberg
Nibali overhauled lone escapee Joaquim Rodriguez in the final kilometre to win the stage by 15sec from Frenchman Thibaut Pinot, with Spaniard Alejandro Valverde third at 20sec.
That put Nibali back into the race lead, having relinquished it for a single day to home favourite Tony Gallopin, who came home 4min 46sec down to drop to fifth overall at 3:12.
"Today I felt good, I had good legs, the team worked hard. I knew the last 3km were the toughest so that's where I accelerated," he said.
"I thought Purito (Rodriguez) would follow me but he gave up in final metres. I knew it would be a very tough day but I'm very happy."
Australian Richie Porte is second overall at 2:23 after finishing seventh on the stage while Valverde is up to third at 2:47.
"I think I was the only one to respond to Nibali's attack at the end," Porte told ITV4.
"He has enough time already so you have to react, but I couldn't stay with him."
Yet the biggest news of the day came halfway through the stage as the Tour lost its second star performer in under a week.
Following the withdrawal of reigning champion Chris Froome last Wednesday after breaking his left wrist and right hand in a succession of crashes over two days, it was Contador's turn to fall badly.
"I was behind him but I avoided it," said Nibali of Contador's crash.
- Consoling -
"It was a descent, he had been behind me and I had left two or three metres space in front ot be careful.
"He came past me and I would have followed him because there was a climb coming up but the moment he passed me, I don't know how, but he fell in front of me.
"It was incredible, he rolled around on the ground. We were going at 60kph."
The 31-year-old Spaniard injured his knee and although he continued after receiving lengthy treatment from the race doctor, he lasted only another 15km before climbing off his bike and into a Tinkoff-Saxo team car as the tears started to flow.
Just before that he'd received a consoling hug from Australian Michael Rogers, his chief lieutenant.
"I sincerely say that it is a shame that Contador is out," added Porte.
"I hope Alberto is OK. It is going to change the dynamics of the race. It would have been a different finish if Tinkoff-Saxo were there."
Once Nibali's Astana team heard of Contador's crash there was an initial period of uncertainty before they accelerated the peloton to keep the pressure on the escapees ahead.
They took the race by the reins over the final two first category climbs of a punishing stage that included seven categorised ascents.
By then a breakaway led by the indefatigable Tony Martin -- the winner of Sunday's ninth stage after an incredible 150km escape -- had been reduced from 13 to nine riders by the relentless pace set by the German.
Martin spent around 120km in front of his young OPQS team leader Michal Kwiatkowski as the entire breakaway group sat behind, letting him do all the work.
When he pulled off 20km from the end, Kwiatkowski broke out for home but Rodriguez proved stronger and left the young Pole in his wake.
Yet, led by Nibali's faithful lieutenants Jakob Fuglsang and notably Michele Scarponi, who climbed off the tarmac after a crash to catch the peloton and still pace his Italian compatriot up the final climb, the peloton was closing in quickly.
With 3km left Nibali launched his attack and no-one could respond.
Porte led the chase but he paid for that in the finish as several other riders accelerated past him.