PLANCHER-LES-MINES, France -- After just 10 stages, the two pre-race favorites have crashed out of the Tour de France. And Vincenzo Nibali is wasting little time in showing that he's the man to beat.
On Monday, the Italian narrowly dodged a spill by Alberto Contador that left the two-time Tour champion with a fractured shin. Nibali went on to barrel past a panting breakaway rider to win a fog-and-rain coated, up-and-down Stage 10 and recover the yellow jersey that he had lost only a day earlier.
"This was the hardest stage I've ever done in a Grand Tour, with seven climbs and so many crashes," said Nibali.
Contador's mishap has given this 101st edition of cycling's greatest event a dubious distinction of being the first in recent memory to force out its two top stars to crash injuries. Five stages earlier, reigning champ Chris Froome quit with a broken wrist and hand sustained in a string of spills.
As the race enters its first rest day Tuesday, Nibali appears on his way to winning his first Tour with under two weeks to go.
When Stage 10 began, Contador was expected to try to erase his 21/2-minute deficit to Nibali by attacking on the ride to the finish atop La Planche des Belles Filles ski resort. But Contador took a hard tumble in a high-speed downhill run in the Vosges mountains.
After riding about 12 miles in pain, Contador gave up. He got off his bike, wiped his eyes and got into a team car. An X-ray later showed a shin fracture.
Nibali said he had been ready for a "duel."
"I already had a good lead, and I was ready to fight in a big duel with Alberto," he said. "Crashes are part of the sport. I've crashed myself many times in the past, too. It's a pity that the Tour has lost two major protagonists."
Nibali regained the lead from Tony Gallopin -- who had taken the yellow jersey off him a day earlier -- in the 100-mile trek from eastern Mulhouse to the steep finish at La Planche des Belles Filles.
With a final burst of speed in the last 1.2 miles, Nibali overtook breakaway rider Joaquim Rodriguez. By the end, Nibali crossed 15 seconds ahead of Thibaut Pinot in second and Alejandro Valverde in third, a further five seconds behind.
Nibali leads Richie Porte by 2 minutes, 23 seconds, in the overall standings. Valverde is third, 2:47 back.
"My legs felt good. I knew the last three kilometers were the toughest, and that's when I accelerated," Nibali said. "I thought Rodriguez would follow, but he seemed to have trouble."
The race resumes Wednesday with a slightly hilly 116.3-mile route from Besancon to Oyonnax in eastern France. Stage 11 will feature four moderate climbs toward the end.