Nibali takes control of yellow jersey on Bastille Day as Contador crashes out
There were Bastille Day fireworks on stage 10 of the Tour de France on Monday as Alberto Contador abandoned following a crash and Vincenzo Nibali reclaimed the yellow jersey with a tremendous victory at La Planche des Belles Filles.
Contador crashed on the 161.5-kilometre 10th stage from Mulhouse and, after struggling on for 20km in an effort to play catch-up, gave up and withdrew to his Tinkoff-Saxo team car.
The Spaniard's departure deprives the race of another previous winner after 2013 champion Chris Froome (Team Sky) withdrew with fractures to his left wrist and right hand on stage five last Wednesday.
Andy Schleck (Trek Factory Racing), who inherited the 2010 title from Contador following an anti-doping infringement, quit the race with a knee injury last Tuesday, although the Luxembourg rider is a shadow of his former self.
None of the remaining riders have won the event, but Nibali took a significant step in his bid to succeed Froome in Paris on July 27.
The action was expected to ignite on the concluding climb ahead of Tuesday's rest day and Nibali, who relinquished the lead on stage nine to Frenchman Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Belisol), surged to a second Tour stage win to take control of the race.
Gallopin struggled, losing the maillot jaune after a one-day stint.
Stage 11 takes place on Wednesday as the race heads for the Alps with the 187.5km route from Besancon to Oyonnax.
Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) was 15 seconds behind Nibali in second on the stage, and Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) third.
Gallopin, who began the day one minute 34 seconds ahead of Nibali, trailed in 33rd, 4mins 46secs behind.
Nibali holds a lead of 2:23 from second-placed Richie Porte (Team Sky), who was 25 seconds behind in seventh on the day.
Valverde is third, 2:47 behind and Gallopin fifth, 3:12 adrift.
The day saw the Tour lose another leading protagonist after Mark Cavendish's crash on day one and the exits of Froome and Schleck.
Contador crashed on the descent of the Petit Ballon as he approached the third of six categorised climbs, the Col du Platzerwasel, on a damp day in the Vosges Mountains.
He received strapping to his right knee, swapped bikes and lost four minutes as a result of the delay, falling nine minutes behind the day's breakaway, which held a five-minute lead on the peloton.
Nibali's Astana team led the main bunch and did not increase the pace on the 7.1km, category one ascent as Contador's team-mates dropped back to help him.
Contador, winner of the 2007 and 2009 Tours, began the day in ninth place, 4:08 behind Gallopin.
But the Spaniard struggled to reduce the arrears and quit with more than 80km of the stage remaining.
The finish at La Planche des Belles Filles was a reminder to Britons of the absent Froome and Sir Bradley Wiggins.
Froome won at the summit of the 'climb of the beautiful girls' in 2012 as Wiggins took the yellow jersey he held until Paris, when he became the first British winner of the race. Nibali finished third two years ago.
Contador's withdrawal could see him refocus on the Vuelta a Espana, which begins in Jerez on August 23. Both Froome and Wiggins could also ride the Tour of Spain.
Contador expressed disappointment when Froome abandoned and the Kenya-born Briton did likewise on Monday, while hinting at his own possible participation in the Vuelta.
Froome wrote on Twitter: "Big loss for the TDF today. Recover well @albertocontador & I hope to see you at the Vuelta."
At the front of the race the breakaway riders were hunting King of the Mountain points, while Sunday's stage winner Tony Martin attempted to lead his Omega Pharma-QuickStep team-mate Michal Kwiatkowski into the yellow jersey.
The Polish rider was the highest-placed of the escapees at the start of the day but was left alone on the ascent of the penultimate climb of the day, the Col des Chevreres, when Martin fell away with 20km to go.
Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) followed Kwiatkowski as more than two minutes behind them Gallopin was toiling behind Nibali and company.
Kwiatkowski was in front on the descent ahead of the day's concluding climb, but Rodriguez attacked on his own with 5km to go.
Nibali, in the Italian champion's jersey for the first time since taking the maillot jaune in Sheffield on stage two, attacked with 3km to go, leaving Valverde and Richie Porte (Team Sky) and others in his wake before surging past Kwiatkowski.
Only Rodriguez was up ahead of the Astana leader as Porte led the counter-attack.
Nibali, the 2012 Tour runner-up and 2013 Giro d'Italia champion, could see a slowing Rodriguez up ahead of him.
The pair were together with 1.2km to go, but Rodriguez faded and Nibali went ahead alone to claim a supreme victory.
Irish Independent Sport Star Awards
Pick our magic sports moment of the year and win a trip for two to London. To view the shortlist and cast your vote click here.