Nibali now strong favorite to win Tour de France - KFDA - NewsChannel 10 / Amarillo News, Weather, Sports

Nibali now strong favorite to win Tour de France

Posted: Updated:
(AP Photo/Peter Dejong) (AP Photo/Peter Dejong)
(AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani) (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)
(AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani). Overall leader Vincenzo Nibali of Italy pedals during a training near Besancon, eastern France, Tuesday, July 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani). Overall leader Vincenzo Nibali of Italy pedals during a training near Besancon, eastern France, Tuesday, July 15, 2014.
  • NationalMore>>

  • Broken water main floods UCLA; 5 people rescued

    Broken water main floods UCLA; 5 people rescued

    Wednesday, July 30 2014 12:27 AM EDT2014-07-30 04:27:07 GMT
    A broken water main near the UCLA campus Tuesday sent a geyser of water some 30 feet into the air, forced the rescue of people trapped in underground parking garages and covered some of the best-known parts of...
    A broken water main near the UCLA campus Tuesday sent a geyser of water some 30 feet into the air, trapping people in underground parking garages and covering some of the best-known parts of campus in water, including the...
  • 4 teens charged with murder in USC student's death

    4 teens charged with murder in USC student's death

    Tuesday, July 29 2014 11:21 PM EDT2014-07-30 03:21:42 GMT
    Four teens were charged Tuesday with murder in the fatal beating of a University of Southern California graduate student with a baseball bat and wrench as he walked to his off-campus apartment after meeting with a...
    Four teens were charged Tuesday with murder in the beating of a University of Southern California graduate student with a baseball bat and wrench as he walked to his off-campus apartment after meeting with a study group.
  • Man wrongly imprisoned seeks millions from state

    Man wrongly imprisoned seeks millions from state

    Tuesday, July 29 2014 10:15 PM EDT2014-07-30 02:15:45 GMT
    A man who was imprisoned 21 years for a rape and murder he didn't commit is set to testify at a first-ever Connecticut hearing to determine how much he should be compensated.
    A man cleared of murder and rape charges after being locked up for two decades made an emotional appeal for millions of dollars in compensation on Tuesday, telling the state claims commissioner about the fear he endured in...
By JEROME PUGMIRE
AP Sports Writer

BESANCON, France (AP) - With defending champion Chris Froome and two-time winner Alberto Contador out of the race, the path is wide open for Vincenzo Nibali to become the first Italian to win the Tour de France since the late Marco Pantani in 1998.

The French have waited even longer for a champion - the last was Bernard Hinault way back in 1985 - but with three riders in the top six places, hopes are growing of at least a first podium place since climber Richard Virenque finished second in 1997.

After Tuesday's rest day, the race resumes with Stage 11 on Wednesday, followed by arduous mountain stages on Friday and Saturday which will reveal the genuine contenders.

These are where Nibali's climbing skills could set him apart, and give him a chance to fully stamp his authority on the race.

There are five days of hard climbing ahead, starting with Friday's 197.5-kilometer (122.4-mile) trek from Saint-Etienne to Chamrousse, which ends with a huge ascent of 18 kilometers (11.2 miles).

As for Nibali's rivals, Contador broke his shin in a violent fall in Monday's 10th stage and Froome pulled out on stage 5 with a broken wrist.

"I'm not happy about what happened to Alberto and Chris," the 29-year-old Nibali said. "The climbs would have been better and more spectacular for everyone."

Nibali, who won the Spanish Vuelta in 2010 and the Giro d'Italia in 2013, is 2 minutes, 23 seconds ahead of Australian Richie Porte and 2:47 clear of Spaniard Alejandro Valverde, who won the Vuelta five years ago.

Three Frenchmen are within four minutes of Nibali - Romain Bardet, Tony Gallopin and Thibaut Pinot. None has come close to a podium place on a Grand Tour, although the 23-year-old Bardet and the 24-year-old Pinot have strong climbing skills.

"We've got to stay calm and study the situation," Nibali said. "The danger can come from anywhere."

Porte rode as a key support rider for Froome last year on the Sky team, but now has free reign to attack.

"Porte goes well in the climbs, he goes well in time trials, you have to keep a good distance on him," Nibali said. "You have to watch Valverde, he can attack at any time."

The 34-year-old Valverde was handed a two-year suspension in 2010 for his involvement in the Operation Puerto doping plot, which involved dozens of riders over secretly stored blood bags.

Like Nibali, Pantani was a courageous cyclist who loved to attack in the tough climbs.

Pantani was found dead in a hotel room on Valentine's Day in 2004 and a coroner ruled he died from cocaine poisoning. Nibali has one of Pantini's yellow jerseys at home, a gift from Pantini's mother to mark the 10th anniversary of his death.

"It would be a great honour to follow on from him," said Nibali.

Friday's stage will also be special for Nibali because it marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of two-time Tour champion Gino Bartali, who died in 2000 at the age of 85.

"As an Italian, it's a huge privilege to be asked about Bartali. I grew up watching documentaries on the big riders, the big wins of (Felice) Gimondi, Bartali and (Fausto) Coppi," Nibali said. "They're all in the encyclopedia of cycling. There are others like Hinault, too. They've written the history of cycling."

The last French heyday came in the 1980s when Hinault, a five-time champion, competed against Laurent Fignon, who won in '83 and '84.

Wednesday's stage is a 187.5-kilometer (116.3-mile) route in eastern France from Besancon to Oyonnax and features four small climbs.

Veteran Fabian Cancellara won't be among the starters.

The 33-year-old Swiss cyclist has pulled out to focus on the Road World Championships in Ponferrada, Spain, from Sept. 21-28.

Cancellara withdrew prior to the start of the 11th Tour stage in 2012.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • InternationalMore>>

  • Official: 13 killed as shells hit Gaza UN school

    Official: 13 killed as shells hit Gaza UN school

    Wednesday, July 30 2014 12:55 AM EDT2014-07-30 04:55:48 GMT
    A Palestinian health official says 13 people were killed after tank shells hit a U.N. school in Gaza where hundreds of Palestinians had taken refuge from Israeli attacks.
    A Palestinian health official says 13 people were killed after tank shells hit a U.N. school in Gaza where hundreds of Palestinians had taken refuge from Israeli attacks.
  • China: Ex-security czar Zhou under investigation

    China: Ex-security czar Zhou under investigation

    Tuesday, July 29 2014 11:34 PM EDT2014-07-30 03:34:09 GMT
    China's Communist Party says it has launched an investigation into a former domestic security chief who was once among the country's most feared leaders.
    China's ruling Communist Party announced an investigation into a feared ex-security chief, demonstrating President Xi Jinping's firm grip on power and breaking a longstanding taboo against publicly targeting the...
  • China reports deadly attack in northwest

    China reports deadly attack in northwest

    Tuesday, July 29 2014 9:37 PM EDT2014-07-30 01:37:14 GMT
    A mob armed with knives rampaged through part of China's volatile northwestern region of Xinjiang and police responded with gunfire, leaving dozens of people dead in the latest violence blamed on Islamic...
    A mob armed with knives and axes rampaged through part of China's volatile northwestern region of Xinjiang and police responded with gunfire, leaving dozens of people dead in the latest violence blamed Islamic...