Vincenzo Nibali wins, Chris Froome vulnerable on Stage 19
LA TOUSSUIRE, France -- Vincenzo Nibali won an exhausting Alpine stage of punishing ascents and steep descents Friday to rescue the otherwise disappointing defense of his Tour de France title.
Behind the Stage 19 winner at the La Toussuire ski station, Nairo Quintana launched his most sustained and telling attack against race leader Chris Froome, and this time got the better of the 2013 champion.
Showing for the first time at this Tour that he's not untouchable, Froome couldn't stay with the Colombian, his closest rival, on the long final climb and saw his overall race lead shrink.
Froome's lead of 2 minutes, 38 seconds over Quintana, down from 3:10 at the start, should be enough to get the British rider through the last competitive day in the Alps on Saturday. Still, the smaller cushion will force Froome to watch Quintana very carefully on Stage 20 and means he cannot afford a bad day.
Nibali rode away from Froome when the Team Sky leader was having a problem with his chain on the stage's toughest climb. Froome pulled up by the side of the road to deal with the mechanical issue. When he looked back up, Nibali had ridden away.
Nibali said he didn't see that Froome had pulled up, even though television images appeared to show him looking back over his left shoulder at the Team Sky rider before accelerating away from him.
The Italian overtook French rider Pierre Rolland on the final climb to La Toussuire. Sweat pouring off his legs, he rode solo to the finish, with the cross from the chain around his neck in his mouth at the end.
Riding with the No. 1 bib as the defending champion, Nibali has had a tough Tour, unable to match Froome. He started the day in seventh place, 8:04 behind. But with the time clawed back on his winning ride Friday, Nibali jumped to fourth place, now 6:44 behind Froome.