Vincenzo Nibali has admitted the Tour de France is now his to lose after extending his lead to 7min 10sec with a dominant victory on stage 18 in the Pyrenees.
The 29-year-old Italian once again blew all of his rivals away with a peerless show of strength on the climb to the summit finish at Hautacam, beating second-placed Thibaut Pinot by 1min 10sec and third-placed Rafal Majka by 1min 12sec.
The win, his fourth of the race, puts him in a seemingly unassailable position at the top of the general classification with just sprint days on Friday and Sunday and an individual time trial on Saturday remaining.
Nibali, who has become only the fourth rider in history to win three summit finishes in a single Tour, believes the pressure is now off his shoulders.
“I feel I am in control of the Tour,” the Astana rider said. “It is a big gap. More than seven minutes means I am feeling confident for the last few stages and I am also feeling a lot calmer.
“It's fantastic to have won four stages. I will try and have a quiet stage tomorrow, and then we move into the time trial, where I will try to do as well as I can.”
While Nibali profited on stage 18, Alejandro Valverde fell from second overall to fourth after being dropped on the climb to Hautacam.
The Spaniard is now 15 seconds adrift of second-placed Pinot and only two seconds behind third-placed Jean-Christophe Peraud in what is shaping up to be one of the closest fights for places on the podium in years.
Valverde 'really tired'
Valverde admitted after his troublesome day that he is exhausted, but is refusing to rule out regaining second place.
"I must now see whether I recover or not,” the Movistar rider said. “I was at my limits today, for sure, but like everybody else, we are going to have to do with the strengths we have left and go ahead.
“I'm really, really tired, but for the time trial everything depends on the form of the day. If I have good legs, I can take the second place back.
"It is not a dramatic day today. Today, I just had to suffer and hang in there – that is what I did, to finish with as much dignity as possible."