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VILLARD-DE-LANS, France (AFP) — Reigning Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) stormed into the overall lead at the Critérium du Dauphiné with a blistering display of pace on Friday’s stage 6.
Nibali, more than a minute and a half behind previous leader Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) at the start of the stage, pulled out all the stops to finish second behind Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) and claim the race leader’s yellow jersey.
“It was a reaction of pride,” said Nibali. “I have not raced since the Tour of Romandie, and the first part of my season wasn’t good. After Romandie I got a good block of training done in Tenerife.
“Coming into the Dauphiné, I needed answers. And as yesterday [Thursday] wasn’t perfect, I wanted to redeem myself.”
The 183-kilometer stage was raced in driving rain, but the 30-year-old Sicilian was undeterred as he attacked more than 110km from the finish in Villard-de-Lans.
He was part of a breakaway group that featured Tony Martin (Etixx-Quick-Step), Costa, Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), and Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal).
By the time they were 40km from home, the quintet had opened up a three-and-a-half minute gap on the rest of the field and Nibali ended the day leapfrogging from 13th overall to take the lead.
In the rainy finale, after the Col du Rousset, Martin was dropped with 22km to go. Gallopin tried his luck 4.5km before the end, but Nibali reacted and rode away solo with 1.4km to go.
Only 300 meters before the line, Costa, 28, the 2013 road world champion, stole in at the last second to snatch victory from Nibali, who had appeared to have the stage well sewn up. Nibali was five seconds behind, while Valverde crossed the line 38 seconds back in third.
Nibali is now 29 seconds ahead of stage winner Costa in the GC standings and 30 seconds ahead of Valverde. Simon Yates (Orica-GreenEdge) is at 35 seconds back in fourth, and van Garderen is fifth, 42 seconds adrift of Nibali.
Chris Froome (Sky) is further back in the overall standings, 1:21 behind Nibali.
“I know that no Italian rider has ever won the Dauphiné. Victory would therefore have a special meaning, but there are two hard stages to come, and there are lots of strong opponents. I prefer to take things day by day,” added Nibali.
Saturday’s seventh and penultimate stage is a severe test of stamina with five major climbs along the 155km route from Montmelian to Saint-Gervais and an altitude finish.