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Vincenzo Nibali all but guaranteed Tour de France title

July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Italy's Vincenzo Nibali is expected to be crowned Tour de France winner Sunday.
Italy's Vincenzo Nibali is expected to be crowned Tour de France winner Sunday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Vincenzo Nibali of Italy closes in on a first Tour de France cycling title
  • Nibali carries a nearly eight-minute lead into Sunday's final stage
  • Two Frenchmen are set to finish on the podium in Paris, pleasing home fans
  • Tony Martin of Germany wins the 20th stage, a time trial, by more than a minute

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(CNN) -- With the last day of the Tour de France usually uneventful as it relates to changes in the overall lead, Saturday marked the last realistic opportunity someone could catch Vincenzo Nibali.

But given his big advantage, that was always unlikely.

And after Saturday's penultimate stage, only a catastrophe can stop Nibali from becoming just the second Italian champion of cycling's most coveted race in more than 45 years -- Marco Pantani was the last Italian winner in 1998, preceding Lance Armstrong's now tainted reign.

As Germany's Tony Martin claimed the 54-kilometer time trial from Bergerac to Perigueux, Nibali finished fourth. Crucially, though, he carries a nearly eight-minute lead into the final day, a 137.5-kilometer stretch from Evry to the Champs-Elysees in Paris.

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"I haven't realized yet how big it is to win the Tour de France," Nibali of team Astana was quoted as saying by the Tour's official website. "I'll keep that for tomorrow.

"It's difficult to ride the Tour but the beauty of it is to cycle on the Champs-Elysées. That's the biggest memory I've kept from my first participation -- the lap of honor, the enormous number of people, Paris' monuments.

"I'll try to savor my victory as much as I can. Every moment will count."

There hasn't been a home champion since Bernard Hinault in 1985 and that drought looks set to continue but the good news for the French is that two riders -- Jean-Christophe Peraud and Thibaut Pinot -- should finish on the podium for the first time since 1984. Peraud overtook Pinot for second.

Peraud said the early exits of last year's winner Chris Froome and former winner Alberto Contador due to wrist and shin injuries, respectively, allowed him to contemplate a runner-up placing.

"The withdrawals of Froome and Contador opened a range of possibilities and I started dreaming about this second place," he said. "I'm happy to have achieved that goal.

"I have a feeling of mission accomplished and a lot of joy today."

Martin, a multiple world time trial champion from Germany, won his second stage of this year's race in 1:06.21, more than a minute-and-a-half quicker than Dutchman Tom Dumoulin.

Read: Lithuanian makes history

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