Tour de France: Vincenzo Nibali expecting pressure as race reaches high mountains
By Matt Westby
Last Updated: 12/07/14 6:44pm
Race leader Vincenzo Nibali expects to come under intense pressure when the Tour de France ventures into the mountains for the first time this weekend.
The Astana rider has a large cushion over his rivals for overall victory after seven stages, with Team Sky's Richie Porte his closest challenger at 1min 54sec down, Movistar's Alejandro Valverde 2min 11sec back and Tinkoff-Saxo's Alberto Contador 2min 37sec adrift.
The next three stages take place in the Vosges mountains in eastern France, with stage eight carrying three climbs in the final 30km, stage nine boasting six categorised climbs in total and stage ten ending with a summit finish at the steep La Planche des Belles Filles.
The Vosges are the first of three ranges this year's Tour will visit, but Nibali doesn't anticipate the likes of Contador will save their attacks for the Alps next week and Pyrenees in the final week.
The Italian, who was forced to keep pace with a surging Contador at the end of stage seven, said: "The coming weekend is going to be very difficult, with a lot of climbs on the course.
"Alberto Contador gave me a signal of what he is keen to do when he asked Nicolas Roche to pull today. They didn't take me by surprise.
It was such a long, stressful day. It might have looked easy on TV, but it definitely wasn’t. I’m happy to have got that day done.
"To wear the yellow jersey is a motivating factor. It creates a positive stress. It's not that tiring for me, but it is for my team-mates."
Nibali is not the only rider feeling the strain, after Porte conceded a high-paced seventh stage had been a stressful hurdle to clear.
General classification hopefuls Tejay van Garderen and Andrew Talansky were both involved in crashes and Porte, who has taken over as team Sky leader following Chris Froome’s departure from the race, was relieved to emerge unscathed.
“It was such a long, stressful day,” he said. “It might have looked easy on TV, but it definitely wasn’t. I’m happy to have got that day done.
“Those transition stages are arguably the most difficult ones in the Tour and we saw Andrew Talansky and Tejay van Garderen both crash today.
"This is a big opportunity for me and I’m going to fight every day.”