PLA D’ADET, France (AP) — Poland’s Rafal Majka captured his second stage victory at the Tour de France on Wednesday, winning Stage 17th with a late breakaway on the last of four tough climbs in the Pyrenees.
Vincenzo Nibali of Italy trailed by about a minute, and gained more seconds on his main rivals, as he retained the leader’s yellow jersey that he’s worn for all but two stages this year.
Majka, who cheekily winked to a French TV camera with about a kilometer left, tapped his chest, thrust his arms skyward and shouted in joy after giving his Tinkoff Saxo-Bank squad its second straight stage victory after Tuesday’s win by Australian Michael Rogers.
“I promised Bjarne today that I would win the stage,” said Majka of his team manager, Bjarne Riis.
Italy’s Giovanni Visconti, whose solo breakaway with about nine kilometers left failed to hold off Majka, was second, 29 seconds back. Nibali was third, 46 seconds behind.
Majka has shown that he’s the best climber in this Tour. The 24-year-old Polish rider tightened his grasp on the polka dot jersey awarded to the race’s King of the Mountains, which he was already wearing.
With a last Pyrenean day ahead on Thursday, Majka is looking increasingly likely to take home the red-dot jersey. His closest rival as the day began was Spain’s Joaquim Rodriguez, who swatted the air in frustration at Majka when the Pole broke away on the last climb.
Wednesday’s 124.5-kilometer (77-mile) trek was the shortest stage in this year’s Tour, and the second of three days in the mountains along France’s border with Spain. It covered three hard Category 1 ascents from Saint-Gaudens and a final push up to Pla d’Adet ski station above the town of Saint-Lary-Soulan.
Nibali gained about 50 seconds on his nearest rival, Spain’s Alejandro Valverde, who made a valiant recovery on the last climb to avoid even more damage. Overall, the Italian has a 5 minute, 26 second lead over Valverde.
Stage 18’s 145.5-kilometer (90-mile) ride from Pau to Hautacam features two climbs that are so hard that they defy cycling’s ranking system, one of them an uphill finish.