Ramunas Navardauskas paid tribute to absent Garmin-Sharp team-mate David Millar after a pre-planned manoeuvre worked perfectly for the Lithuanian to claim victory on Tour de France stage 19.
A daring late escape on the 208.5-kilometre route from Maubourguet Pays du Val d’Adour saw Navardauskas rewarded as he was able to do what team-mate Jack Bauer could not and held off a peloton splintered by crashes on a treacherous finale in torrential conditions in Bergerac.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) was largely untroubled, despite a late crash in the peloton, to remain seven minutes 10 seconds clear and on course for overall victory in Paris tomorrow.
Navardauskas, who recorded Lithuania’s first Tour win, was a late replacement for Millar, who had been selected for his 13th and final Tour before Garmin-Sharp made a late change which left the Scot upset, angry and insisting the illness given as a reason for his omission would be brief. Millar cheered on from afar, via Twitter, during the stage, having previously sent Navardauskas a message of support.
“Before the Tour de France I got a really nice email from Dave,” said Navardauskas.
“He said ‘hey, if somebody took my place in the Tour team, I’m really happy it’s you’ and he asked me to take a victory for him. I managed it.”
Nibali will have to wait for his coronation until after today’s penultimate day time-trial, the 54km from Bergerac to Perigueux, when the battle to join him on the podium resumes.
Tomorrow is traditionally a procession before a circuit race on the Champs-Elysees contested by the sprinters.
Nibali, already a winner of four stages, intends to give everything in the race against the clock.
“There aren’t many risks, but to honour the jersey, the team and the Tour,” said Nibali, who is set to become the sixth rider to win all three Grand Tours, having won the 2010 Vuelta a Espana and the 2013 Giro d’Italia.
“It’s a good idea and right to race all out.”
The three riders in second to fourth are separated by 15 seconds, with Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) second and Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale) third as they bid to be the first Frenchman on the Tour podium in 17 years. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is fourth.