SAINT-LARY-SOULAN: Rafal Majka won his second stage of the 2014 Tour de France on Wednesday and also extended his lead in the King of the Mountains standings. And the 24-year-old Pole revealed that it was his team manager Bjarne Riis’s tactical nous that helped him both win the tough 124.5km Pyrenean stage and hold onto the polka-dot jersey. Spaniard Joaquim Rodriguez had started the day just a point behind Majka in the mountains classification but picked up 24 points to Majka’s 10 over the first three first category climbs. But the 35-year-old was nowhere to be seen when Majka crossed the line at Saint-Lary at the end of the final hors category ascent.
“Bjarne told me not to go for the King of the Mountain points (on the first three climbs), he said ‘wait, wait, wait, you’ll get double points at the finish’,” said Majka. Majka picked up 50 points for finishing first with Rodriguez coming over the line in 31st place, meaning the Pole now leads Vincenzo Nibali, the yellow jersey wearer, by 31 points. Nibali extended his overall lead by 49sec to 5:26 ahead of Alejandro Valverde. French veteran Jean-Christophe Peraud was the big mover amongst the leading six, closing to just 8sec of Thibaut Pinot in third place as he finished alongside Nibali.
On Tuesday morning Peraud was sixth overall and more than a minute behind his teammate Bardet in third. But the 37-year-old has steadily climbed the standings and with one mountain stage left on Thursday – in which the epic Tourmalet and Hautacam mountains will be climbed – Peraud is in a good position to finish on the podium. He is a better time-triallist than any of those competing for a top three finish.
Just as he did in the second of the two Alpine stages, Peraud proved the only rider capable of holding onto Nibali’s wheel when the Italian accelerated on the final climb. “I’m very happy with my form: hanging onto Nibali in the third week! I had the good fortune of having him as a point of reference. He worked with me and I thank him for that,” said the AG2R rider, who was ninth at the Tour in 2011.
Peraud spent a lot of time just tagged onto Nibali’s back wheel but the Italian said that didn’t bother him as he put time into Valverde and Pinot. “For me it was important to gain some seconds. (Peraud) is quite far behind (6:08) so he’s not a danger to me,” said the 29-year-old Astana leader.
A series of different breakaway groups throughout the day eventually ended up with a 14-strong one at the foot of the final climb. Four men got away before Giovanni Visconti, who like Nibali is Sicilian, took off on his own. Majka had accelerated a couple of times out of the bunch but Rodriguez refused to work with him and just settled behind his wheel. But when the Pole went a third time he got clear and gradually chased down Visconti.
The pair rode together for a while before Majka attacked and the Italian, who finished second on the stage, could not respond. Nibali gobbled up the stragglers from the breakaway group and crossed the line third, with Peraud fourth. Valverde showed his experience by hanging in when he was dropped by acceleration from Pinot that was followed by Bardet and American Tejay Van Garderen. But Valverde let two teammates pace him back up to the young trio and he even gained 5sec on them with a little burst just before the line.
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