BERGERAC, France — Ramunas Navardauskas gave Lithuania and his American team a stage victory Friday at the Tour de France. Now cycling's great showcase is reduced to this — the race for second place behind Vincenzo Nibali.
The Italian, who has all but won the yellow jersey, cruised to the finish in Stage 19 in the rain-splattered pack behind the Lithuanian's breakaway. Only a mishap of the highest order during today's time trial would deny Nibali victory in Paris on Sunday.
With cool and methodical racing, Nibali has bit by bit built a lead of more than seven minutes on his closest rivals. Frenchmen Thibaut Pinot and Jean-Christophe Peraud and Spaniard Alejandro Valverde are vying for second and third.
The showdown comes down to today's 33.5-mile time trial from Bergerac to Perigueux. Relatively long by Tour standards, the stage will require riders to maintain a steady rhythm and face the wind or rain on their own without the protection of the pack.
Officials at Nibali's team, Astana, said he would attempt to win the stage, which will mostly be important to riders looking for spots on the podium. Only 15 seconds separate the three riders behind Nibali. Pinot trails the leader by 7 minutes, 10 seconds, Peraud is 7:23 back, with Valverde two seconds slower. Pinot is considered the least skilled among the three in time trials.
"(Today) is the most important stage of the Tour," Pinot said. "I'll have to be strong."
Next in the standings is France's Romain Bardet, but he's more than two minutes behind Valverde and not considered strong in time trials. American Tejay van Garderen is regarded as strong, but he's another two minutes slower in sixth place.
Just as Italy is eager for its first Tour winner since Marco Pantani in 1998, many French fans are ebullient at the prospect that the first rider from the race's homeland will reach the podium for the first time since Richard Virenque in 1997.
Navardauskas became the first Lithuanian to win an individual stage in the Tour.