Tour de France recap: Valverde soars to victory

For a man who, at the age of 25, once counted himself among the few who could challenge the legendary Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France, Alejandro Valverde has fallen a long way.

Missed opportunities in 2008. Drug suspensions in 2010. Crashes at the Tour in 2012.

On Thursday, though, Valverde put all of his past troubles behind him and flew away to claim victory on the final significant mountain stage of this year’s Tour up to Peyragudes.

He did so thanks to a bold attack on the penultimate climb of the stage, up the Port de Balès. The move separated him from the remnants of a breakaway that had once contained 23 men. After working for a brief time with Rui Costa, his faithful teammate and a strong rider in his own right, before going off on his own about two miles before the summit.

Valverde built a lead of 2’45″ over the yellow jersey group of Bradley Wiggins and his would-be challengers, then narrowly held off the hard-charging British tandem of Wiggins and his super-domestique Chris Froome in the final kilometers to win by just 19 seconds.

That the time gap turned out to be almost alarmingly slim did not dampen Valverde’s joy at having won in the slightest.

“I went all out,” said Valverde. “When I saw there were only 700 meters left, I was really really happy.”

Meanwhile, Wiggins all but assured himself of victory in the overall classification by diligently marking any attacks made by his closest rivals, Jurgen van den Broeck and Vincenzo Nibali. However, both riders failed to gain any significant traction with their attacks and ultimately fell further behind Wiggins by the day’s end.

“Once we saw that Nibali had cracked at the top of the Peyresourde, we knew we didn’t have the danger of him attacking in the final so it was at that point that I knew it was pretty much over,” said Wiggins, who added that he now fully believes that he will be crowned winner after Sunday’s jaunt into Paris.

“All the way up the last climb I almost had tears in my eyes. It’s a really nice feeling,” said Wiggins.

The Tour flattens out on Friday with a long, occasionally hilly stage into Brive-la-Gaillarde.

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