Rafal Majka wins 17th stage, Vincenzo Nibali builds on Tour lead

Vincenzo Nibali of Italy has an overall lead of 5 minutes, 26 seconds over his closest competitor.  (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
BRYN LENNON/Getty Images
Vincenzo Nibali of Italy has an overall lead of 5 minutes, 26 seconds over his closest competitor.

PLA D’ADET, France — On the last of four Pyrenees ascents, Rafal Majka winked at a French TV camera and tugged playfully at a motorcycle’s antenna.

Even this late in the Tour de France, the Polish rider made winning look easy as he took Stage 17 on Wednesday.

For Vincenzo Nibali, the second ride in the mountains on France’s border with Spain was more serious. ‘‘The Shark’’ nibbled more seconds away from several of his closest challengers, and the yellow jersey that he’s worn for all but two days of this race seemed to fit just a little more tightly ahead of Sunday’s race finish in Paris.


Nibali was even businesslike with his own prime minister, imploring him not to get too ahead of himself in celebration.

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‘‘It’s true that I received a text message from Matteo Renzi, who invited me to Chigi Palace to celebrate my victory,’’ said the cautious Sicilian of the premier’s official residence. ‘‘I replied that only after winning — if I do so — I'll be able to say that I'll be present.’’

Wednesday’s 77-mile trek was the shortest stage in this year’s Tour. It covered three hard Category 1 ascents from Saint-Gaudens and a final push up to Pla d'Adet ski station above the town of Saint-Lary-Soulan.

Majka, who also won Stage 14 in the Alps, again showed he’s the best climber in this Tour and tightened his grip on the polka dot jersey, which is awarded to the race’s King of the Mountains.

Giovanni Visconti got the action going on the last climb, but his solo breakaway with about 5½ left could not hold off Majka. Visconti, who is also Sicilian, was second, 29 seconds back, and Nibali was third, 46 seconds behind.


With a last Pyrenean day ahead Thursday, Majka could ensure that he takes the red-dot jersey home. His closest rival for it when the stage started was Spain’s Joaquim Rodriguez, who swatted the air in frustration at Majka when the Pole broke away on the last climb.

Majka said he felt ‘‘comfort’’ toward the finish in part because he'd been saving up energy a day earlier by riding easier. He finished in a bunch 24½ minutes behind Australian teammate Michael Rogers, who won Stage 16.

By Wednesday, ‘‘I felt really, really good in the last climb,’’ Majka said, after tapping his chest, thrusting his arms skyward, and shouting in joy at the victory. ‘‘For me, when there are a lot of climbs, it’s the best.’’

Nibali made his latest case to become the first Italian to win cycling’s showcase race in 16 years — since Marco Pantani.

Nibali gained just under a minute on four of his closest rivals. Second-place Alejandro Valverde of Spain, who made a valiant recovery on the last ascent to avoid even more damage, now trails by 5 minutes, 26 seconds.


The exception was Jean-Christophe Peraud of France, who hugged closely on the leader’s back wheel and finished fourth.