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Nibali tightens Tour grip as Contador is out

By Julien Pretot

LA PLANCHE DES BELLES FILLES France (Reuters) - Italian Vincenzo Nibali tightened his grip on the Tour de France on Monday, reclaiming the yellow jersey with a solo victory on the 10th stage as his main rival Alberto Contador crashed out.

Astana rider Nibali, who is looking to complete his set of grand tour titles after winning the Vuelta and the Giro, attacked in the final climb, a brutal 5.9-km ascent to La Planche des Belles Filles and never looked back.

France's Thibaut Pinot took second place 15 seconds back with Spain's Alejandro Valverde in third place 20 seconds off the pace.

Spaniard Contador, Tour winner in 2007 and 2009, pulled out after suffering a shinbone fracture following a crash during a descent, organizers said.

Nibali now leads Australian Richie Porte, who took over as Team Sky leader after 2013 champion Chris Froome crashed out last week, by two minutes 23 seconds.

Valverde of the Movistar team is third overall, 2:47 off the pace.

France have three riders in fourth, fifth and sixth place overall in Romain Bardet, Tony Gallopin and Pinot.

Bardet and Pinot are now set for a battle for the white jersey for the best under-25 rider.

"I am aiming at a top 10 finish (in Paris) and the white jersey will just come by itself," said Pinot.

American Andrew Talansky, one of the podium contenders, cracked in the finale and lost over 10 minutes as the Garmin-Sharp rider dropped out of contention.

Tuesday is the Tour's first rest day and it could not come at a better time after Monday's ordeal.

Seven categorized climbs were on the itinerary and riders once again faced torrential rain in the Vosges region.

"It was a very, very hard day, (team mate) Michele Scarponi did an incredible job," said Nibali, who witnessed Contador's crash.

"It happened in a descent, the asphalt was not in good condition. He was behind me but then passed me and three seconds later he fell off in front of me. It was spectacular, we were around 60 kph."

The peloton slowed down but when it became clear that Contador would not be rejoining the bunch, the pace upped again and the race went on.

DRIPPING BLOOD His shirt and shorts torn, Contador sat on the side of the road to receive treatment from the race doctors, blood dripping from his right knee. He got back to his bike and was being helped by his Tinkoff-Saxo team mates but after climbing the category-one Col du Platzerwasel, Contador got off his bike again in thick fog and stepped into his team car. "Alberto crashed badly. The crash was violent. I have his shoe with me, it's completely destroyed," said Contador's sports director Philippe Mauduit. "According to some rumors, his bike was broken but that's not the case. In a fraction of a second, it all fell apart, so we're immensely sad."

Earlier, Joaquim Rodriguez had rejoined the breakaway group in the first ascent of the day, the Col du Firstplan, as the Spaniard is looking to win the polka dot jersey for the points classification. The 10-man pack built a comfortable lead and Slovakian Peter Sagan attacked in the descent to collect 20 points at the intermediate sprint, further strengthening his lead in the points classification. Pole Michal Kwiatkowski jumped in a counter-attacking group led by his Omega Pharma-Quick Step team mate Tony Martin, winner of Sunday's ninth stage, but he cracked in the end, surrendering the white jersey for the best under-25 rider to Bardet. Nibali, who had surrendered the yellow jersey to Gallopin on Sunday, powered away from a group of favorites three kilometers from the finish and quickly caught Rodriguez and dropped him.

Behind him, Pinot, who lives in the region, went on the attack to claim a handful of seconds on Valverde and Porte as the race for the podium looks wide open.

Even though recent crashes suggest nothing will be done until the very end, Nibali is firmly on track to become the sixth man to win all three grand tours after Contador, Frenchmen Bernard Hinault and Jacques Anquetil, Italy's Felice Gimondi and Belgian Eddy Merckx.

"Crashes are part of our job, it's not enough to just be good in the climbs," said Nibali.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot, editing by Tony Goodson)

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