PERIGUEUX, France — Vincenzo Nibali confirmed he will win the Tour de France and two Frenchmen will join him on the podium after a dramatic penultimate stage on Saturday.
After his remarkable deeds in the mountains, Nibali finished the individual time trial in an impressive fourth place behind winner and German speedster Tony Martin, and padded his overall lead by more than 40 seconds to nearly eight minutes.
It’s mainly a ceremonial ride on Sunday to the Champs-Elysees, where Nibali is set to become the first Italian winner of the Tour since Marco Pantani in 1998.
Nibali reduced the drama on Stage 20 to who would join him on the podium on Sunday.
Jean-Christophe Peraud and Thibaut Pinot, will, the first Frenchmen on the podium since Richard Virenque in 1997.
They did enough to leave behind an unlucky Alejandro Valverde of Spain in their three-man race for the final podium. Only 15 seconds separated them when the stage began in Bergerac, but it became more than two minutes when the time trial finished in Perigueux.
Peraud, a 37-year-old former mountain bike racer, became tearful at the finish after learning he would be on the final podium: “It’s beautiful.”
Because Valverde had a bad day, Peraud — who even blew a flat and had to change bikes, losing about 20 seconds — and Pinot were able to eclipse him.
Among other changes, American Tejay van Garderen climbed a spot from sixth to fifth overall by overcoming a deficit of 2 minutes, 7 seconds to Romain Bardet — by just two seconds. The young French rider lost key seconds after blowing a flat at the end of the stage.
Because the last stage is flat, and the teams of Nibali, Peraud and Pinot will be hawking over any breakaway attempts, the final stage, after more than 86 hours of racing, is a cruise which often features Champagne bottles popping during the ride.
Martin, the world time trial champion, clobbered the field over the 54-kilometer (34-mile) leg.
Pedaling with his body curled up in a tight ball, with the aerodynamic rear disk wheel bearing the rainbow-colored stripes earned by the world champion, Martin maintained a steady pace on the flats, hugged the edge of the road on curves, and squatted down on his bike’s top tube to reduce wind drag on the descents. Sweat trickled down his nose and off his chin.
The German overtook the rider who started two minutes before him by about the 15-kilometer point. Four kilometers later, Martin, who began 115th in the stage, already had a 35-second lead on the fastest man up to that point: Czech time trial champion Jan Barta. At the end, he finished 1:39 faster than Dutch rider Tom Dumoulin in second, and Barta was third, eight seconds slower.
Nibali was fourth, 1:58 behind the German, Van Garderen was sixth, 2:08 behind, and Peraud was seventh, 2:27 adrift.
Overall, the Italian has a lead of 7:52 over Peraud, and 8:24 over Pinot. Valverde, in fourth, was 9:55 back.
To understand the difficulty of overcoming a seven-minute margin, only 12 1/2 minutes separated Martin from the rider who finished last. Because Nibali was far from the worst time-trial rider — in fact he’s among the best — it was nearly impossible for his longshot rivals to catch him.