RISOUL, France – Panting hard with his jersey unzipped and wide open in the heat, Polish rider Rafal Majka sped to a solo breakaway victory in Stage 14 as the Tour de France wrapped up its foray in the Alps on Saturday.
The two stages were expected to shake up the standings, but Vincenzo Nibali was not only still wearing the yellow jersey, he was farther out front.
In a flip of their finishes a day earlier in the race’s entree to the Alps when Nibali won, the Pole and the Italian crossed one-two after the 110-mile ride over the 7,742-Izoard pass – the race’s highest point – and a final ascent up to Risoul ski station.
Majka’s victory was the first on this Tour by his Tinkoff-Saxo Bank team, which lost main leader Alberto Contador when he crashed out injured in Stage 10.
Majka was not a threat to Nibali: He began the day 97 minutes behind the race leader, who has carried out a methodical, chipping-away strategy against his biggest challengers for the yellow jersey.
“I am really very happy,” Majka, who was sixth in the Giro d’Italia this year, said of his first professional victory after chucking his stage winner’s bouquet to the crowd. He became only the second Polish rider to win a Tour stage, after Zenon Jaskula in 1993. “I am a little tired, but … I had a calm first week to help Alberto. It broke my heart to see him leave.”
Team owner Oleg Tinkov, a Russian businessman, choked up, wiped his nose, and put on sunglasses.
“We lost Alberto, we had to win,” he said through a translator on French TV. “Rafal is a marvelous young rider. We will come back to try to win the Tour one day.”
The stage didn’t shake up the top five standings, but the day’s biggest loser was Alejandro Valverde of Spain: The Movistar team leader held on to his second place but lost a minute to Nibali and saw his gap over third-place Romain Bardet of France slip to 13 seconds.
Overall, Nibali leads Valverde by 4:37 and Bardet by 4:50. American Tejay van Garderen was fifth, 5:49 back.
Nibali’s strong performance makes the Tour from here to the finish in eight days in Paris looking more and more like a race for podium spots below him.