Vincenzo Nibali will be crowned winner of the 2014 Tour de France in Paris on Sunday after extending his overall lead on stage 20’s individual time trial, which was won convincingly by Tony Martin.
Nibali went into the penultimate day with a 7min 10sec advantage at the top of the general classification and stretched that to 7min 52sec by finishing fourth on the stage.
It means that as long he avoids crashing on a largely processional 21st stage into Paris, the 29-year-old Italian will claim his first Tour victory and become only the sixth rider in history to have won all three Grand Tours.
He will be joined on the podium on the Champs-Elysees by Jean-Christophe Peraud in second and Thibaut Pinot in third, after the two Frenchman both comfortably defeated Spain’s fourth-placed Alejandro Valverde in the time trial.
The three riders were separated by just 15 seconds going into the stage, but Peraud produced a fine display to leapfrog Pinot into the runner-up spot, while Valverde toiled badly on a rolling 54km course from Bergerac to Perigueux and never looked like improving on his fourth place overall.
Martin, meanwhile, won his second stage of this year’s Tour with a dominant performance, beating Tom Dumoulin into second by 1min 39sec and Jan Barta into third by 1min 47sec with a blistering time of 1hr 06min 21sec.
The German said: “I’m happy with the performance today. I expected worse legs, but right from the start I had a good feeling. Sure, I had tired legs, but I recovered well after the mountains so I could set a good pace from the start to the finish. I never really had a weak point. For me I did a perfect race.”
Martin (Omega Pharma – Quick-Step) was one of the earlier starters and made light work of the course in sunny conditions, setting the fastest time at all three splits and never looking in danger of being beaten.
There was far less certainty about the battle for second and third in the general classification, with Pinot (FDJ) starting the day 13 seconds ahead of Peraud (Ag2r-La Mondiale) in third and 15 seconds in front of Valverde (Movistar) in fourth.
The situation changed almost immediately, though, after Peraud made a flying start and opened up gaps of 25 seconds over Pinot and 1min 08sec over Valverde by the first checkpoint, after 19km.
Peraud then suffered a puncture after about 30km, which allowed Pinot to reduce his deficit back to 24 seconds, but Valverde continued to haemorrhage time as his challenge for a maiden podium place unravelled.
Despite his mechanical setback, Peraud remained calm and quickly refound his rhythm, eventually claiming seventh place on the stage, but Pinot ran out of legs and finished 45 seconds down on his compatriot on the day, and 32 seconds adrift overall.
While the three men up the road battled each other, Nibali (Astana) only had to avoid crashing to cement his grip on the yellow jersey, but instead he pushed on and beat them all with another impressive display.
There was heartbreak for Peraud’s team-mate Romain Bardet, who lost fifth place in the general classification to Tejay van Garderen (BMC) after suffering a puncture, leaving him an agonising two seconds down on the American overall.
Stage 20 result
1 Tony Martin (Ger) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step, 1:06:21
2 Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Giant-Shimano, +1min 39sec
3 Jan Barta (Cze) NetApp-Endura, +1:47
4 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana, +1:58
5 Leopold Konig (Cze) NetApp-Endura, +2:01
6 Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC, +2:08
7 Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale, +2:27
8 Sylvain Chavanel (Fra) IAM Cycling, +2:36
9 Markel Irizar (Spa) Trek Factory Racing, +2:39
10 Daniel Oss (Ita) BMC, +2:58
1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana, 86:37:52
2 Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale, +7:52
3 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ, +8:24
4 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar, +9:55
5 Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC, +11:44
6 Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale, +11:46
7 Leopold Konig (Cze) NetApp – Endura, +14:41
8 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Trek Factory Racing, +18:12
9 Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Belkin, +18:20
10 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Belkin, +21:24