While most in Kazakhstan are enjoying the summer weather, the Astana Pro Team is forging ahead and setting the pace in the Tour de France 2014 several thousand miles to the west.
Astana Pro Team racer Vincenzo Nibali launched an ingenious late game attack to win Stage Two and take the lead in the Tour de France on July 6 and, after Stage Four, leads the prestigious tour.
Although Stage Three was taken by Marcel Kittel of Germany, who showed that he may be the sprinter to beat at the Tour de France, the yellow shirt is still in the hands of Astana’s own.
“It was a fabulous day for me, I gave it the good fight,” Nibali, who collected his first Tour stage win and first yellow jersey, said after the race. “It was difficult. There was a lot of headwind … I was lucky enough to have attacked at the right moment.”
Over the last six kilometres, several of the prerace favourites to win the race played a catandmouse game, quickly switching up the leadership of the breakaway bunch. But Nibali, a 29-year-old rider who has won both the Italian Giro and Spanish Vuelta, timed his attack perfectly by bursting ahead with less than two kilometres to go and holding off surging chasers during the hilly 198-kilometre race from York to Sheffield.
“I had to give my all to win. My legs were really hurting. Today, I was thinking more about winning the stage than taking the jersey,” Nibali added.
The Italian was up front with a bunch, including defending champion Chris Froome of Britain and Spanish two-time winner Alberto Contador, each of whom burst to the front of the escaping bunch near the end. Others in the group included 25-year-old American riders Andrew Talansky and Tejay van Garderen.
“It was a very hard day but the home crowd’s support was great,” said Froome, the Team Sky leader. “I’m tired, but I hope everyone’s tired after a day like today.”
Running from July 5 to Sunday July 27, 2014, the 101th Tour de France will be made up of 21 stages and will cover a total distance of 3,664 kilometres.
There will be 9 flat stages, 5 hill stages, 6 mountain stages with 5 altitude finishes, 1 individual time-trial stage, 2 rest days, and 9 new stage cities: Leeds, Harrogate, York, Sheffield, Cambridge, Ypres, Oyonnax, Risoul, Maubourguet Pays du Val d’Adour.
For the first time in history, the Tour has now included cities in Britain. It will also cover some parts of Belgium.
The three-week competition will determine the new winner in Paris on July 27.