Tour de France race leader Vincenzo Nibali strengthened position at top of general classification after a tough day

Italian Vincenzo Nibali rode further ahead into the Tour de France lead today over the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix while his rivals lost time, crashed and, in Chris Froome’s case, abandoned.

“It was big coup,” team Astana’s captain said. “I feel well, but we have to get to Paris yet.”

Nibali won the 2010 Vuelta a España and the 2013 Giro d’Italia. Already after five days of racing, the 29-year-old Sicilian has nearly a minute on all of the main contenders for the overall race title in two and a half week’s time in Paris.

Overnight, he led with two seconds on his rivals thanks to the gap he gained at the end of stage two in Sheffield. He used the seven pavé sectors of the 152-kilometre stage to further hammer at his rivals. Richie Porte now leads team Sky and sits 1-54 behind. Two-time race winner Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) is at 2-37.

Nibali rode near the front in his yellow jersey on the first sector and sent his team ahead when the group split. Over the following sectors, the group continued to fall apart to contain only 20 riders – including his team-mates Jakob Fuglsang and Lieuwe Westra.

“I was a little nervous this morning, but I was able to stay calm. My team-mates even crashed in front of me, I was lucky to stay on my feet,” continued Nibali.

“I had a good feeling on the pavé, but I’ve never raced a stage like this, it was really hard and I’m just happy that it went well. The entire team rode near me the entire day and I had team-mates with me to help me through.

“I expected less in this stage because I thought Fabian Cancellara could do something and blow up the group, but maybe it wasn’t his day.”

Nibali may also count out rival Froome, who crashed twice today and abandoned. In 2012, his last year to race the Tour de France, he place third behind Bradley Wiggins and Froome.

“He crashed hard yesterday and another time today. I don’t know his condition, but I know that today was very hard. Unfortunately, cycling is like that,” Nibali said.

“I have a good advantage on Alberto but the road is still long to Paris, you need to keep your head on your shoulders.”

  • reece46

    Vinokourov’s team look very strong, quite a change in form for Astana