Vincenzo Nibali produced another supreme show of strength in the mountains to win stage 13 of the Tour de France solo and extend his overall lead of the race.
The Italian blew all of his rivals away on the 18.2km climb to the summit finish at Chamrousse with a pair of attacks, first 6.7km from home and then again 3.3km out.
He crossed the line ten seconds ahead of second-placed Rafal Majka and 11 seconds in front of third-placed Leopold Konig, but more significantly, fourth-placed Alejandro Valverde was 50 seconds behind
The result sees Nibali stretch his lead in the general classification to 3min 37sec over Valverde, who climbs from third to second after Richie Porte suffered a disastrous day and lost 8min 48sec.
French hope Romain Bardet rises to third place, 4min 24sec down on Nibali, after finishing seventh on the stage, while Porte is now more than 11 minutes down overall in 16th.
Nibali, who has now won three stages of this year’s Tour, said: “It’s a very special day today. I am very happy. I just wanted to gain as much time as I could. I knew Valverde was close to me, Porte was very close to me as well. But in the end I felt stronger than Valverde.”
Stage 13 was the race’s first day in the Alps and with the challenge of the hors-categorie climb to the summit finish being amplified by temperatures in excess of 30C, it was inevitable that it would have a significant say on the general classification.
A nine-man breakaway rode clear early in the day, but by the time the riders arrived at the foot of the huge climb to the ski resort of Chamrousse, only Alessandro De Marchi remained in the lead.
Valverde’s Movistar team took over at the front of the peloton ahead of the ascent as they looked to put pressure on Nibali, who was down to just one team-mate after Michele Scarponi had been dropped and Jakob Fuglsang had crashed.
However, the Spanish squad quickly burned themselves out and by the time De Marchi was caught with 13.7km to go, Valverde was on his own and Nibali was back on the front alongside team-mate Tanel Kangert.
Valverde falls away
When the pace was increased after De Marchi’s catch, Porte was unable to respond and dropped back at an alarming rate, which he later attributed to struggling in the fierce heat.
Nibali had no such problems and after fending off a short-lived attack from Valverde 10.4km out, he made his own move with 6.7km remaining and immediately distanced his now closest rival.
The race leader quickly bridged across to Majka and Konig, who were up the road following earlier attacks, but then shed that pair with his second – and stage-winning – attack 3.3km from the line.
Valverde was then left to limit his losses alongside Pinot, whom he let do all the chasing in the final kilometres before darting ahead just before the line.
The fight for the yellow jersey will continue on Saturday with another Alpine stage ending in a second-consecutive summit finish, at the ski resort of Risoul.
Stage 13 result
1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana, 5:12:29
2 Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff-Saxo, +0:10
3 Leopold Konig (Cze) NetApp–Endura, +0:11
4 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar, +0:50
5 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ, +0:53
6 Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC, +1:23
7 Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale, st
8 Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Belkin, +1:36
9 Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale, +2:09
10 Fränk Schleck (Lux) Trek Factory Racing, st
1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana, 56:44:03
2 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar, +3:37
3 Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale, +4:24
4 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ, +4:40
5 Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC, +5:19
6 Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale, +6:06
7 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Belkin, +6:17
8 Jurgen van den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol, +6:27
9 Leopold Konig (Cze) NetApp–Endura, +8:36
10 Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Belkin, +9:18