Vincenzo Nibali back in Tour de France yellow

Contador exits after crash to leave Italian stage winner the clear race favourite

Blood had been expected along the zigzagging paths towards La Planche des Belles Filles but not such an abrupt kill. Yet on another wild day at this year's Tour de France two moments of the highest drama tilted this year's race perhaps decisively towards Vincenzo Nibali.

The first came halfway through stage 10, high up Le Markstein, where the air was thinned of oxygen and thickened with fog. Even so, one could make out Alberto Contador – his right tibia broken after an early crash – patting his Saxo-Tinkoff team-mate Michael Rogers fondly on the back, before struggling off his bike and into his team car.

Display of acceleration

Two hours later Nibali – teeth clenched, yellow helmet jigging excitedly – surged past his rivals in a curt display of acceleration and authority to win the stage, 15 seconds clear of

Thibault Pinot


, with

Alejandro Valverde

five seconds further back in third.

It was on La Planche des Belles Filles two years ago that Team Sky blasted the peloton apart, with Chris Froome winning the stage and Bradley Wiggins slipping into yellow. This time Nibali did it solo, powering past Joaquim Rodriguez with 1.2km to go, to regain the yellow jersey he had relinquished on Sunday.

If the Italian keeps his form it is hard to see him losing the Tour now. Certainly Sky's Richie Porte, who finished 25 seconds behind on the day to move into second on general classification, 2min 23sec behind, knows it will be hard to find a weakness. Porte said: "I felt good but it's not great to be towing everyone to the line. But when Vincenzo goes you have to respond. He's got enough time already. You don't really want him to get any more."

Inevitably thoughts returned to Contador – the latest high-profile victim of a race that has now lost Mark Cavendish, Froome and him in the opening 10 days.

The Spaniard had attempted to ride on after crashing on the descent of the day’s second climb, the 1,163m Petit Ballon. But as the yellow jersey group drifted away, pain and reality bit hard.

Later the Belgian rider Jurgen van den Broeck said Contador had crashed trying to overtake the peloton on the descent of the Petit Ballon, when he hit a pothole in the road at 65kph and flew over his handlebars. Other riders said Contador hit a rock. It took time for the medical team to reach him and for his right knee to be wrapped; time too for his bike to be fixed. When Contador finally got moving he had lost four minutes on the peloton. He kept going for another 20km but with 77km remaining decided to abandon.


The tone for the day was set when a group of desperados charged out of Mulhouse at the start. Among them was

Tommy Voeckler


Tony Martin

, in spite of Sunday’s heroics where he had ridden 59km solo to win the stage into Mulhouse, trying to get his Omega Pharma-Quickstep team-mate

Michal Kwiatkowski

into yellow. But the man making the most striking impression was Purito Rodriguez, who rode himself into the King of the Mountains jersey.

With 20km remaining energy suddenly drained from Martin's legs. While Kwiatkowski and Rodriguez pressed on, the Lotto-Belisol group of Tony Gallopin chugged away in metronome, trying to keep possession of the maillot jaune.

It all came down to the day's final climb. La Planche des Belle Filles has a lyrical name derived from a grizzly legend: an apocryphal story in which local girls, fearing torture by the Swedish Army in the thirty years' war, killed themselves by jumping into a lake.

Now, more prosaically, Rodriguez first left Kwiatkowski behind and then had Rodriguez – and spectators – gasping.

Today the riders have their first rest day, although Nibali appears to have plenty in the tank. The evidence suggests it is his to lose.

Then again, given what has happened so far, it would be foolish to be too forthright in predictions.– Guardian Service