Italy's Vincenzo Nibali (C) wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, rides in the pack next to Spain's Alejandro Valverde (L) during the 16th stage of the Tour de France between Carcassonne and Bagneres-de-Luchon, southwest France on July 22, 2014Italy's Vincenzo Nibali (C) wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, rides in the pack next to Spain's Alejandro Valverde (L) during the 16th stage of the Tour de France between Carcassonne and Bagneres-de-Luchon, southwest France on July 22, 2014 (AFP Photo/Lionel Bonaventure)
Saint-Gaudens (France) (AFP) - Tour de France leader Vincenzo Nibali played down suggestions he had finally cracked ahead of Wednesday's fearsome 17th stage in the Pyrenees.
The day before Nibali had been slightly distanced by young French climber Thibaut Pinot as the leaders crested the Port de Bales before a 20km descent to the finish.
Pinot himself said Nibali had let him go because he knew he would catch him on the descent, the Italian being known as the best descender in the peloton while the Frenchman openly admits it's his weakness.
Astana's Nibali said he was more concerned with Movistar's Alejandro Valverde, who is second in the overall standings at 4min 37sec.
"On the climb Movistar pushed it on and the man to control was Valverde because he can also do damage on the descent," said the 29-year-old.
"Pinot sprinted clear at the top but I was getting some sugars on board, it was nothing, I was in control."
Nibali also suggested he had been caught out in the wrong position when Pinot, who moved up to third overall at 5:06 with his strong showing, kicked at the top of the hill.
And he insisted he hadn't overlooked the potential danger Pinot could pose.
"I certainly am not underestimating anyone, I learnt that last year at the Vuelta (a Espana where he lost out to outsider Chris Horner).
"I was the one to close Pinot down in the last kilometre when he attacked and Valverde had left a gap.
"I tried to keep everything under control and I was also thinking about the race in next few days. Many people used a lot of energy and that showed in their legs."
Wednesday's 17th stage is just 124.5km, compared with the 237.5km trek on Tuesday, and includes three first category climbs before the hors category finish to Saint-Lary-Soulan.
Nibali says that will make it much tougher than Tuesday's stage.
"(Tuesday's) was relatively tranquil but then exploded at the end. (Wednesday's) is much shorter but much more intense.
"It could be difficult and maybe many riders used a lot of energy (Tuesday).
"We (Astana) will try to manage things day by day like we've been doing since the second stage. We've done well until now and we'll continue to try to do so."
Pinot may have gained time on the likes of Romain Bardet and Tejay Van Garderen on Tuesday, but he's expecting a reaction on Wednesday.
"It will be a very short and nervous stage and I expect my rivals to attack me," he said.
AG2R have the next two in the standings behind Pinot, Frenchmen Jean-Christophe Peraud, fourth at 1:02 behind Pinot, and Bardet who is fifth another 32sec further back.
But it is Peraud and Van Garderen, who dropped to more than 4min behind Pinot after a dreadful day in the first Pyrenean stage, who most worry Pinot because of their timetrialling capabilities.
"I need to gain more time. I put time into Romain and Van Garderen but I need to get more time on Peraud," said Pinot.
Bardet was the big surprise on Tuesday after looking strong in the Alps.
He cracked on the final climb but said he's hoping to bounce back quickly.
"I lost a battle but there are still two great (Pyrenean) stages to come," he said.
"Maybe (Wednesday) I'll have more freedom on a stage that suits me a lot. I hope to have better legs than (Tuesday)."