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Associated Press
Rafal Majka, center, Joaquim Rodriguez, left, and Frank Schleck climb during Stage 17 on Wednesday in Saint-Lary, France.
Tour de France

Polish rider takes climbing stage; Italian retains lead

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 yet 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 ahead of himself in celebration.

“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 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 5 1/2 miles 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 today, Majka could ensure that he takes the red-dot jersey home. His closest rival for it 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 in the last 5 kilometers in part because he’d been saving up energy a day earlier by riding easier. He finished in a group 24 1/2 minutes behind Australian teammate Michael Rogers, who won Stage 16.