Vincenzo Nibali has denied his comfortable lead of the Tour de France is devalued by the absence of 2013 winner Chris Froome and Alberto Contador.
Nibali stretched his advantage over Alejandro Valverde at the top of the general classification to 4min 37sec by finishing second on stage 14’s summit finish at Risoul.
The 29-year-old Italian is now the overwhelming favourite to win the race for the first time and become only the sixth rider in history to triumph at all three Grand Tours.
It has been a remarkable return to form after a poor first half of the year in which he was regularly beaten by both Froome and Contador at races such as the Tour of Oman, Tour de Romandie and Criterium du Dauphine.
Both of those riders were forced to abandon the Tour following heavy crashes, but Nibali is adamant he would still be in, or close to, the yellow jersey had they remained at the race.
“I don't see why my lead at the Tour de France would be less valuable because Alberto Contador and Chris Froome aren't here anymore,” Nibali said. “I have gained time in important parts of the race, like on the roads of Paris-Roubaix [on stage five].
“I came here with good form and the intention to fight till the end. I notice that riders who were ahead of me at the Dauphine are behind at the Tour. Last year I won the Giro, I came second at the Vuelta and I beat Froome and Contador at almost all the races I did with them.”
Nibali was denied a fourth win of this year’s Tour on stage 14 by Rafal Majka, who had also crossed the line second on stage 13’s summit finish 24 hours earlier.
Majka finished sixth overall at May’s Giro d’Italia and had not been scheduled to ride the Tour, but was called up to Tinkoff-Saxo’s team as a last-minute replacement for Roman Kreuziger and has been able to maintain his strong form.
Nibali revealed the 24-year-old Pole’s impressive performances have opened his own eyes to the potential of a Tour-Giro double in 2015.
“Majka's victory here, after he finished sixth in the Giro, makes me think that it is possible to do both Grand Tours," Nibali said. "I did them both when I was young, but now I'm physically much more mature.
“My challenge for next year might well be to target Giro and Tour, but I yet have to talk to my team. When we finish a season, we restart from scratch. It is not excluded that I will be present at both Giro and Tour next year.”