BERGERAC, France (AP) — Ramunas Navardauskas of Lithuania led a late breakaway in a downpour to win the 19th Stage of the Tour de France on Friday after hitching a ride with his Garmin-Sharp teammates.
Italy’s Vincenzo Nibali retained the overall leader’s yellow jersey and is expected to take it home with him when the three-week cycling showcase ends Sunday. His lead of more than seven minutes over his closest challenger is so big that only a racing disaster could strip him of it.
Navardauskas stole away from the pack late in the 208.5-kilometer (129.5-mile) trek from Maubourguet to Bergerac in southwest France. He looked back over his shoulder, kissed his fingers and raised his arms in victory, with a bunch of sprinters barreling behind him. They crossed seven seconds later, and the stragglers followed.
The 26-year-old Garmin-Sharp rider became the first Lithuanian to win an individual stage at cycling’s greatest race, and gave his team its first stage win this Tour. In 2011, he was on the Garmin-Cervelo squad that won the team time trial at the Tour that year, and he also won a stage in last year’s Italian Giro.
Garmin-Sharp made the win a team effort.
First, Dutch rider Tom-Jelte Slagter joined a five-man breakaway early on, then sped ahead alone. Alex Howes of the United States helped pull the Lithuanian up front, before Navardauskas went away solo with about 13 kilometers (8 miles) left.
“I gave it all. My teammates worked really hard for me,” said Navardauskas. “I took a risk — you have to try — and it worked.”
The performance offered some vindication for Garmin-Sharp, which has had a rough Tour. First, team leader Andrew Talansky of the U.S. pulled out before Stage 12 due to pain from crashes. Three stages later, New Zealand’s Jack Bauer cried at the finish line after looking back over his shoulder in the last several seconds only to see the pack deprive him of a long-breakaway victory with just meters to go.
“I was just hoping that it would not happen the same way as Jack. To the last 10 meters, I was afraid to turn back,” said Navardauskas. “I had no idea what was happening behind me.”
Within the last few kilometers, around a dozen riders crashed together while trying to turn rightward on the rain-slickened roads. Among them were Slovak rider Peter Sagan, who has the green jersey given to the race’s best sprinter, and Romain Bardet, who is fifth overall.
Fellow Frenchman Jean-Christophe Peraud, who is third, briefly got delayed. Under course rules, because the crash happened in the last 3 kilometers (2 miles), nobody who got ensnared in it lost time in the title chase.
The top standings didn’t change. The race’s final shakeout comes Saturday with this year’s only individual time trial. Nibali leads his closest rival by more than seven minutes, but the quest for the last two podium spots is tight. Only 15 seconds separates second-placed Thibaut Pinot, Peraud and Alejandro Valverde in fourth.
The rolling race-against-the-clock from Bergerac to Perigueux is relatively long by Tour standards at 54 kilometers (33.5 miles). The discipline will require riders to pace themselves, maintain a steady rhythm and face the elements like wind or rain on their own — without the protection of the pack.
In reverse order of the standings, riders are to set off one-by-one down the starter’s ramp at several-minute intervals over more than six hours on Saturday.
Cheng Ji of Giant-Shimano, who is competing in his first Tour and is the first rider ever from China to compete in the race, will go first. Nibali goes last.