Navardauskas escapes to victory
Ramunas Navardauskas paid tribute to absent Garmin-Sharp team-mate David Millar after a pre-planned manoeuvre worked perfectly for the Lithuanian to claim victory on Tour de France stage 19.
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A daring late escape on the 208.5-kilometre route from Maubourguet Pays du Val d'Adour saw Navardauskas rewarded as he was able to do what team-mate Jack Bauer could not and held off a peloton splintered by crashes on a treacherous finale in torrential conditions in Bergerac.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) was largely untroubled, despite a late crash in the peloton, to remain seven minutes 10 seconds clear and on course for overall victory in Paris on Sunday.
Navardauskas, who recorded Lithuania's first Tour win, was a late replacement for Millar, who had been selected for his 13th and final Tour before Garmin-Sharp made a late change which left the Scot upset, angry and insisting the illness given as a reason for his omission would be brief.
Millar cheered on from afar, via Twitter, during the stage, having previously sent Navardauskas a message of support.
"Before the Tour de France I got a really nice email from Dave," Navardauskas said.
"He said 'hey, if somebody took my place in the Tour team, I'm really happy it's you' and he asked me to take a victory for him. I managed it."
Navardauskas' win was a triumph of planning and perseverance as Garmin-Sharp finally prevailed; other teams, notably Team Sky, are likely to finish the Tour without a victory.
The torrential rain in the Dordogne region aided the Lithuanian's chances as Navardauskas finished seven seconds ahead of John Degenkolb (Giant-Shimano) and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha), the man who caught Bauer in Nimes.
Tom-Jelte Slagter was in the day's five-man breakaway and forged on alone when his fellow fugitives were swept up 22km from the finale.
The Dutchman had a slender 15-second advantage at the foot of the day's only categorised climb, the category four Cote de Monbazillac.
He put in one last burst up the 1.3km ascent - a climb which saw chances end for some, including Marcel Kittel (Giant-Shimano), winner of three of the race's first four stages - before Navardauskas bridged the gap and burst off his team-mate's wheel on the descent.
As Navardauskas forged forwards, taking a 24-second lead with 7km to go, Millar said on Twitter: "If anyone can do this Ramunus can!"
A technical finale was made more difficult by the conditions and Garmin-Sharp loaded the front of the bunch in a bid to slow the peloton.
A large crash inside 3km to go split the peloton and ended points classification leader Peter Sagan's bid for a first stage success of the race and Navardauskas held off the small bunch which avoided the crash.
As the crash took place in the final 3km, all the riders involved finished on the same time as Degenkolb.
Millar was thrilled with the win, praising a "text book" performance.
"From the very beginning we had this plan to do this attack," Navardauskas said.
"The whole team was around me and supported me. I attacked up the climb, got to Tom, Tom gave this big pull for me.
"I went with all my power and did my time-trial till the end."
Navardauskas had visions of a repeat of Bauer's fate.
"It was really sad when Jack couldn't win because he did this amazing 200km and was caught in the last 20m," he said.
"Till the last 10m I was afraid to look back."
Nibali will have to wait for his coronation until after Saturday's penultimate day time-trial, the 54km from Bergerac to Perigueux, when the battle to join him on the podium resumes.
Sunday's final day is traditionally a procession before a circuit race on the Champs-Elysees contested by the sprinters.
Nibali, already a winner of four stages, intends to give everything in the race against the clock.
"Tomorrow, there aren't many risks, but to honour the jersey, the team and the Tour," said Nibali, who is set to become the sixth rider to win all three Grand Tours, having won the 2010 Vuelta a Espana and the 2013 Giro d'Italia.
"It's a good idea and right to race all out."
The three riders in second to fourth are separated by 15 seconds, with Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) second and Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale) third as they bid to be the first Frenchman on the Tour podium in 17 years. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) is fourth.
Given his position and the sport's tainted history, Nibali was asked to comment on the doping history of members of his Astana team, particularly general manager Alexandre Vinokourov, the Olympic champion, who served a two-year suspension for blood doping.
"The team Astana is completely new, a young team with young riders, completely different than before," Nibali said.
1 Ramunas Navardauskas (Ltu) Garmin Sharp, +4:43:41
2 John Degenkolb (Ger) Giant-Shimano, +0:07
3 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) Katusha, same time
4 Mark Renshaw (Aus) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step, st
5 Daniele Bennati (Ita) Tinkoff-Saxo, st
6 Alessandro Petacchi (Ita) Omega Pharma - Quick-Step, st
7 Samuel Dumoulin (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale, +0:09
8 Julien Simon (Fra) Cofidis, st
9 Sep Vanmarcke (Bel) Belkin-Pro Cycling Team, st
10 Jurgen Roelandts (Bel) Lotto Belisol, st
1 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana, 85:29:26
2 Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ, +7:10
3 Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale, +7:23
4 Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar, +7:25
5 Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale, +9:27
6 Tejay van Garderen (USA) BMC, +11:34
7 Bauke Mollema (Ned) Belkin, +13:56
8 Laurens Ten Dam (Ned) Belkin, +14:15
9 Leopold Konig (Cze) NetApp-Endura, +14:37
10 Haimar Zubeldia (Spa) Trek Factory Racing, +16:25