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After Vincenzo Nibali secured the 2014 Tour de France title on Sunday, here are the the five stages where the Italian made the difference:
Stage 2 – York to Sheffield, 201km
Nibali only gained two seconds over his rivals in this stage but it was the daring and determined break he made in the last few kilometres on a downhill section that signalled his intent. Before the race all the talk had been of a battle between Chris Froome and Alberto Contador, with Nibali seen as the third man. But the Shark rode away from his rivals to strike a psychological blow and demonstrate that he had arrived at the Tour in top form, physically and mentally.
— peloton magazine (@pelotonmagazine) July 6, 2014
Stage 5 – Ypres to Arenberg Porte du Hainaut, 152.5km
The cobbled section had been feared since it was first announced last September and it took no prisoners, although Froome crashed out even before the first section on the ‘pave’. Nibali stunned everyone by taking the race by the scruff of the neck and leaving even great cobble riders such as Fabian Cancellara and Peter Sagan in his wake. Buoyed by the yellow jersey on his back he looked like a cobbles veteran and rode to a third placed finish, putting at least two minutes into almost all his rivals, with Contador losing more than 2:30.
Stage 10 – Mulhouse to La Planche des Belles Filles, 161.5km
The biggest threat to Nibali’s yellow jersey hopes, Contador, crashed out in the first half of this stage leaving the Italian not just with a healthy lead but also without a rival that had ever won the Tour. Now left as the most decorated rider in the race and the leader, he stamped his authority on the tough first summit finish of this race. Nibali was the one to attack on the finish up to La Planche des Belles Filles and his rivals couldn’t react as he soloed to a second stage win. He only gained a handful of seconds on those closest to him but he delivered a telling blow, showing that he was the strongest going uphill, leaving little hope for his rivals to overhaul him.
Stage 13 – Saint-Etienne to Chamrousse, 197.5km
The first summit finish in the high mountains came on a scorching hot day in which Australian Richie Porte, who was sitting second on GC, wilted and lost almost nine minutes. It was a crucial sign that even the weather can play a significant role in damning riders’ hopes. But not only did Nibali deal with the 35 degree Celsius temperatures comfortably, he crushed any hopes that there could still be a race. Nibali first responded to an attack by Alejandro Valverde, who moved up to second by the end of the stage, and then pushed on alone, leaving his rivals in his wake. He reeled in escapees Leopold Konig and Rafal Majka and accelerated away to his third stage victory of the race, proving once and for all he had no peers in the 2014 Tour.
Stage 18 – Pau to Hautacam, 144.5km By this point the Tour was already won for Nibali but what he did was establish just how great his superiority was. The significance of this stage was that it was the day when it was clear that everyone else had given up trying to beat him. When he rode away from the pack on the final Hautacam climb with 10km to go, none of the leading contenders even attempted to follow him. He easily reeled in Mikel Nieve up the road and powered on to his fourth victory of the Tour. And as the Italian himself said afterwards, this wasn’t an attack to crack his rivals, this was simply about adding to his legacy and winning atop a prestigious climb.