After a display of superb descending in Sheffield to win stage two and an assured performance on the cobbles of stage five to extend his overall lead, Nibali seized his opportunity on the climb of La Planches de Belles Filles in the Vosges mountains to take control of the race.
The Italian started the Tour as third favourite behind Chris Froome (Team Sky) and Contador but with Froome, the defending champion, abandoning on stage five, Contador, the winner in 2007 and 2009, was forced to quit after crashing on a wet descent today.
Nibali, who briefly relinquished the yellow jersey to Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Belisol) after stage nine, now tops the general classification once again, with the 29-year-old holding a two minutes and 23 second advantage over Richie Porte, promoted to Team Sky leader after Froome’s departure, with Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) a further 23 seconds back.
The stage in detail
Stage ten marked the first serious day in the mountains of the 2014 Tour de France, with a 161.5km route which took in seven categorised ascents and finished with the category one climbs of La Planche des Belles Filles.
Lieuwe Westra (Astana) initiated the day’s breakaway and was soon joined by Giovanni Visconti (Movistar), Christophe Riblon (AG2R), Amaël Moinard (BMC), Thomas Voeckler (Europcar), Markel Irizar (Trek) and Arnaud Gérard (Bretagne), before Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha), Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Jan Barta (NetApp) grew the group further.
Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) recorded a superb solo victory on stage nine after spending much of the day out front and the three-time world time trial champion was determined to be involved once again, bridging the gap to the escapees with team-mate Michal Kwiatkowski, wearing the white jersey for best young rider, along with Rein Taaramäe (Cofidis), Reto Hollenstein and Marcel Wyss (IAM).
Contador crashed on the descent between the Petit Ballon and Col du Platzerwasel and, after spending several minutes at the roadside receiving treatment from the race doctor, climbed back on his bike in a valiant attempt to rejoin the peloton, with the help of team-mates Daniele Bennati, Michael Morkov, Matteo Tossato and Nicolas Roche.
However, the Spaniard was clearly in pain and far from his fluid self so, having dropped back to the team car for further attention, pulled to the roadside and got in the vehicle as the Tour lost its third former champion after Chris Froome (Team Sky), who abandoned on stage five, and Andy Schleck (Trek Factory Racing), who failed to start stage four after crashing on stage three. An x-ray later showing Contador had suffered a fracture to his right tibia in the crash, revealing the 31-year-old’s bravery in continuing for as long as he did.
Meanwhile, the Astana-led peloton forged ahead, conscious of the presence of Kwiatkowski in the leading group, with Martin in supreme form once again, riding at the road of the breakaway for much of the day in a bid to help his team-mate gain time.
Martin finally cracked on the steep category one climb of the Col des Chevrères, swinging to the side of the road and almost coming to an immediate standstill, such have been his efforts over the past two days.
Rodriguez attacked on the climb but was caught on the descent by Moinard, Kwiatkowski and Visconti, before Rodriguez had another attempt at glory on the ascent of La Planches de Belles Filles Only Kwiatkowski was able to follow the Catalan rider, in searched of a second career Tour de France stage win after previously triumphing in the 2010 race, but Rodriguez soon dropped the Pole.
Back in the much-reduced peloton, Nibali attacked his rivals and caught Rodriguez with 1.2km to go, surging past Purito and riding to the summit to win his second stage of the 2014 race and sending a serious warning shot to any rider with eyes on the title.
Gallopin, the overnight leader, crossed the line four minutes and 34 seconds after Nibali to give up the yellow jersey after spending Bastille Day in the spotlight and Nibali is now favourite to hold the maillot jaune all the way to Paris.
Tour de France 2014: stage ten – result
1) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) – Astana – 4:27:26 hours
2) Thibaut Pinot (FRA) – FDJ.fr +15″
3) Alejandro Valverde (SPA) – Movistar +20″
4) Jean-Christophe Péraud (FRA) – Ag2r La Mondiale – same time
5) Romain Bardet (FRA) – Ag2r La Mondiale +22″
6) Tejay Van Garderen (USA) BMC Racing – same time
7) Richie Porte (AUS) – Team Sky +25″
8) Leopold Konig (CZE) – NetApp-Endura +50″
9) Joaquim Rodriguez (SPA) – Katusha +52″
10) Mikel Nieve (SPA) – Team Sky +54″
1) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) – Astana – 42:33:38 hours
2) Richie Porte (AUS) – Team Sky +2’23”
3) Alejandro Valverde (SPA) – Movistar +2’47”
4) Romain Bardet (FRA) – Ag2r La Mondiale +3’01”
5) Tony Gallopin (FRA) – Lotto-Belisol +3’12”
6) Thibaut Pinot (FRA) – FDJ.fr +3’47”
7) Tejay Van Garderen (USA) – BMC Racing +3’56”
8) Jean-Christophe Péraud (FRA) – Ag2r La Mondiale +3’57”
9 Rui Costa (POR) – Lampre-Merida +3’58”
10) Bauke Mollema (Ned) – Belkin Pro Cycling +4’08”