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Ramunas Navardauskas wins 19th stage of Tour de France
First Lithuanian to achieve the feat
Vincenzo Nibali retains yellow jersey with two stages to go
Late crash holds up field inside final 3km
His Garmin-Sharp teammate saw victory snatched from his grasp in heartbreaking fashion earlier in the Tour de France but Ramunas Navardauskas made sure there was to be no repeat on a rain soaked 19th stage Friday.
Navardauskas took his courage in his hands to burst clear of the peloton with 13km of the leg from Maubourguet Pays du Val d’Adour to Bergerac and to stay clear, becoming the first Lithuanian to win a stage of cycling’s most prestigious race.
The 26-year-old was helped by a late crash which disrupted the efforts of the chasing teams with recognized sprinters and left green jersey leader Peter Sagan on the tarmac.
Read: Bauer denied by surging Kristoff
Yellow jersey holder Vincenzo Nibali avoided the carnage to maintain his seven minute 10 second advantage over Thibaut Pinot of France in the overall classification with just two days to go.
It was the first stage win of the 2014 Tour for Garmin-Sharp, who might have thought their luck was out after Jack Bauer’s tearful failure in Nimes last Sunday.
Bauer had led until the closing meters before being overhauled by a pack of surging sprinters, but if Navardauskas was unnerved by that precedent he did not show it as he attacked on the fourth category Cote de Monbazillac.
Using his noted ability as a time trialist, Navardauskas’ advantage stayed at around 20 seconds until the crash at the front of the peloton just inside the three kilometers to go mark.
His teammate Bauer took a hefty fall in the incident, the unfortunate New Zealander receiving medical attention at the roadside before cycling to the finish.
Read: Bold move puts Nibali in yellow
Navardauskas could afford to sit up to celebrate his victory, having a seven second advantage over the chasers, who were led by German John Degenkolb ahead of two-time stage winner Alexander Kristoff of Norway in third.
But he revealed that fear of the same fate befalling him as Bauer had been his motivation.
“I didn’t know what was happening back there,” he told gathered reporters. “I was thinking that maybe the sprinters’ teams would chase me down.
“I’ve no idea what happened, I just went as fast as I can, I kept my speed up and hoped that what happened to Jack wouldn’t happen to me.
Read: Defending champion Froome crashes out
“Until the last 10 meters I was afraid to turn back. I went as fast as I can so at the end I couldn’t say that I could have done better. I went with all my power and at the end I had nothing left in my legs.”
Saturday will see the final major test of an eventful Tour, a 54km individual time trial from Bergerac to Perigueux.
Nibali’s advantage leaves him in a comfortable position, but the real battle will be for the other podium places with Pinot, fellow Frenchman Jean Christophe Peraud and fourth-placed Alejandro Valverde of Spain separated by just 15 seconds.
Sprint specialists such as Marcel Kittel, Kristoff and Sagan will get one final chance of a stage win with the traditional finale on the Champs Elysees in Paris Sunday with Nibali set to be crowned Tour de France champion for the first time barring disasters.