Kristoff rallies for Stage 15 win, Nibali maintains Tour lead

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Updated: 7/20 3:08 pm

Nimes, France (SportsNetwork.com) - Alexander Kristoff of Norway won a late group sprint to the wire and captured Stage 15 of the Tour de France, while Italy's Vincenzo Nibali maintained his strong grip on the yellow jersey as the overall leader in cycling's most prestigious event.

Kristoff and the rest of the peloton caught breakaway riders Jack Bauer of New Zealand and Martin Elmiger of Switzerland in the final meters. Bauer and Elmiger had led for the majority of Sunday's 222-kilometer jaunt from Tallard to Nimes, but could not hold on for what would have been a surprise stage victory.

Instead, it was Kristoff who claimed his second stage win of this year's tour as he finished in a time of 4 hours, 56 minutes and 43 seconds. He also won Stage 12 on Thursday.

"I didn't expect to win two stages in the same Grand Tour, so I can't see any more," said Kristoff.

Nibali, who extended his overall lead over the past two days in the Alps with a stage win and a runner-up finish, was 31st on Sunday with the same time as the stage winner.

"I came to the Tour de France this year after improving my condition progressively in order to reach my first peak of the year precisely at the Tour de France," said Nibali, who has a week remaining in his effort to give Italy its 10th Tour de France title and first since Marco Pantani in 1998.

"As an Italian, I'm proud to become part of the history of the Tour like prestigious champions in the past," Nibali added. "Two years ago, I already felt so when I was battling against (Bradley) Wiggins and (Chris) Froome. But I'm probably too focused on my race now to put my performances into perspective and realize what it means."

Spain's Alejandro Valverde finished 22nd in the same group as the stage winner and remained second overall -- 4 minutes and 37 seconds behind Nibali. Romain Bardet of France is another 13 seconds behind, followed by countryman Thibaut Pinot. American Tejay Van Garderen is fifth, 5:49 off the yellow jersey's pace.

After two grueling days in the Alps, it was time for the sprinters with a mostly flat route in southeastern France. However, unheralded riders Bauer and Elmiger took off from the start and stayed in front until the very last moments.

Bauer pulled away from Elmiger in the final kilometer, but the peloton was closing on both riders and eventually passed Bauer in the final moments. Bauer, trying to become the first New Zealand rider to win a Tour de France stage, finished 10th for the day and Elmiger was 16th.

"It's just bitter, bitter disappointment," said Bauer. "It's a childhood dream to win a stage of the Tour and I'm normally working for others. This was my first chance to be up the road and me and Martin realized we had a chance for the win. I left it until 400 meters to go. I thought I had it, but then I realized in the last 50 meters that I had nothing (left)."

Kristoff timed his attack perfectly and finished a bike length in front of Australia's Heinrich Haussler.

"I was just happy to see the two breakaway riders caught," noted Kristoff. "They made a huge effort. I feel sorry for them. What they did was impressive."

Slovakia's Peter Sagan, already the runner-up in four stages this year without a victory, nearly made it five. He placed third, however, and remains the green jersey leader for sprinter's points.

The Tour takes its second rest day on Monday before resuming Tuesday with the first of three days in the Pyrenees. It starts with a 237.5-kilometer trek from Carcassonne to Bagneres-de-Luchon, which features five climbs -- the last being of the highest category.

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