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Valverde wins Stage 17 as Wiggins closes in on historic victory

Story highlights

  • Alejandro Valverde claims first stage win for Team Movistar
  • Team Sky's Bradley Wiggins nears first British Tour de France victory
  • Wiggins leads teammate by over two minutes with three stages left
  • Frenchman Voeckler closes on "King of Mountain" title

Spanish rider Alejandro Valverde won stage 17 of the Tour de France on Thursday, as Bradley Wiggins edged closer to Britain's first overall victory in cycling's premier race.

With three stages remaining, Wiggins leads his Team Sky colleague Chris Froome by just over two minutes.

Valverde finished 18 seconds ahead of Wiggins and Froome on the final stage in the Pyrenees, recording Team Movistar's first win at this year's Tour.

The 32-year-old had a lead of 2:35 as the riders began the final 15-kilometer climb, but struggled to maintain his advantage as the two British riders closed in and finished just 19 seconds ahead.

"When I felt that Froome and Wiggins were approaching me on the final climb, I gave everything I could to resist their chase and, after 500 meters from the finish line, I started to tell myself that it was good," Valverde told the Tour website after finishing first on the 143.5 km route between Bagneres-de-Luchon and Peyragudes.

"I've had a lot of bad luck since the start of the Tour, and it was very difficult to manage. I fell three times in two days, and it wasn't looking good," said Valverde, referring to the crashes suffered by Team Movistar in the early stages of the race.

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"I focused on a stage win. I really tried; until now far it hasn't worked but we had to keep fighting the bad luck."

Valverde's best finish is sixth in 2007, but he has only returned to cycling this year following a doping ban.

"This is a very special victory for me," he said. "I'm back in the squad and I'm winning again, like I did before. For two years I had to stop competing but I never stopped working.

"This is why I was on the podium in a world of my won, and I was not able to restrain my tears."

Wiggins has worn the yellow jersey for most of the three-week event and is now almost certain to become the first Briton to win the prestigious race following its final day in the mountains.

"It was the first time I allowed myself to think that I've won the Tour. All the way up, the last bit my concentration had gone," said Wiggins ahead of Friday's leg from Blagnac to Brive-La-Gaillarde -- which will see the focus go back on the sprinters.

"The nature of the Tour is that people fall by the wayside as the race goes on. That's the effect of the length of the race and how hard it is; it's the nature of the Tour de France.

"I said at the start in Liege that it's about being good for 21 days and never really having any super days or any bad days."

Frenchman Thomas Voeckler looks set to be crowned "King of the Mountains" after maintaining his lead in the best climber competition after the conclusion of the mountain stages..

The Tour continues Friday with a 222.5km ride from Blagnac to Brive-la-Gaillarde.