LA TOUSSUIRE, France (Reuters) - Tour de France leader Chris Froome came under attack and lost 30 seconds but still retained a healthy advantage after Friday’s 19th stage in which defending champion Vincenzo Nibali claimed a vintage victory.
With one mountain stage remaining before the final procession into Paris, Froome leads by 2:38 from Colombian Nairo Quintana, who attacked the Briton in a gripping finale to finish second and cut the leader’s advantage.
Spain’s Alejandro Valverde, who finished 2:26 off the pace among a group that included several of the race’s top ten, remains third, 5:25 behind Froome.
Nibali, who had dropped out of contention in the race after a tough first week and a bad first day in the Pyrenees, broke away from a group of top riders 61 kilometers from the finish.
On his way to victory, the Italian caught and dropped Frenchman Pierre Rolland in the final climb, an 18-km ascent to the ski resort of La Toussuire at an average gradient of 6.1 percent.
The Astana rider crossed the line 44 seconds ahead of Quintana, who attacked Froome with about six kilometers remaining, finishing 30 seconds ahead of the Briton.
Nibali made his move six kilometers from the top of the grueling ascent to the col de la Croix de Fer and did not look back.
He caught Rolland, who had launched his assault even earlier, at the top of the col du Mollard and the duo descended towards the foot of La Toussuire at breakneck speed.
They started the climb with a 1:45 lead over the yellow jersey group. Nibali dropped Rolland two kilometers into the ascent.
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Toby Davis