Fourth stage win sees Nibali stretch his lead

DRIVING SEAT: Stage winner Vincenzo Nibali of Italy, wearing the yellow jersey, climbs towards Hautacam on Thursday's 18th stage.

DRIVING SEAT: Stage winner Vincenzo Nibali of Italy, wearing the yellow jersey, climbs towards Hautacam on Thursday's 18th stage.

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Vincenzo Nibali wanted to show he was “the boss” in winning his fourth stage of the 101st Tour de France yesterday to all-but seal overall victory.

Nibali (Astana) added victory on the 145.5-kilometre 18th stage from Pau to Hautacam to wins in Sheffield, La Planche des Belles Filles and Chamrousse.

The Italian – the first yellow jersey holder since Eddy Merckx in 1974 to win four stages outside of time-trials – began the day with an advantage of five minutes 26 seconds and enhanced his lead to a near-unassailable 7mins 10secs with just three stages to go. Bar a major blow, he will win the yellow jersey in Paris on Sunday.

Nibali’s Astana team boss Alexandre Vinokourov said: “This is a great victory and a show of strength by the whole team. Vincenzo wanted to prove he was the boss. He really wanted to win that stage.”

Nibali added: “It’s fantastic to have won four stages. I didn’t believe I’d do that.

“There aren’t many stages until the finish now and my lead is consolidated. I’m pretty serene.

“I’ve wanted to leave a footprint in the Pyrenees. I wanted to show that I’m the strongest, I wanted the stage win.”

Nibali played down his commanding lead.

The battle to join Nibali on the podium intensified yesterday, with three riders separated by 15 seconds with one final bid to gain time in tomorrow’s penultimate day time-trial.

Frenchman Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) was second on the stage, 1min 10secs behind, to move up to second place overall. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), who began the day in second, finished 10th, 1:59 behind, to drop to fourth overall, 7:25 behind Nibali and two seconds behind Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale).

Pinot is second by 13 seconds from Peraud, who was fourth on the stage, with Valverde two seconds further back.

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