July 26, 2014

PERIGUEUX, France (AP) Tony Martin lived up to his world champion status by winning the time trial, the 20th and second-to-last stage of the Tour de France.

The German won the race by an easy 99 seconds. As impressive was fourth place for Vincenzo Nibali, the Tour champion-in-waiting. He extended his overall lead to nearly eight minutes, with just the largely ceremonial ride into Paris to come on Sunday.

Here are five things to know about the Tour on Saturday:

NIBALI INTO HISTORY: Nibali says he hasn't thought yet about what it will mean on Sunday when he wins the Tour for the first time, and becomes the seventh champion from Italy. ''Me, I never thought about that, I've focused on each stage,'' he said. ''I never think about entering history.'' The 29-year-old from Sicily is the first Italian winner since Marco Pantani - but Pantani's victory came in the scandal-marred 1998 Tour, when rampant doping nearly killed the Tour. The previous Italian champ was Felice Gimondi in 1965, making Nibali only the third Italian in almost 50 years to win cycling's biggest race. Another bit of history that Nibali has yet to soak in is that he will join five others as winners of all three of cycling's Grand Tours: Gimondi, Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Alberto Contador. ''It's magnificient, it's marvellous,'' Nibali said. ''It hasn't sunk in yet.'' Next up for the Italian is some rest and relaxation with his family. Asked whether he'd prepare to make a run at the world championships in Spain in September, Nibali did something he hasn't done during the whole three-week Tour: Hesitate. ''I don't know, this year, after the Tour, to arrive at the end of the season in good form is difficult.''

PINS AND NEEDLES: Needles are in vogue at Nibali's Astana team. Don't read that the wrong way: We're talking acupuncture. Over the years, cycling teams have tried a variety of techniques to try to help riders eke out marginal gains, like cryotherapy, oxygen tents or even hauling special mattresses from hotel to hotel. Astana is applying acupuncture to help riders rest, recover, and relieve pain. The Kazakh team's acupuncturist says he believes he's the only one on a team staff at this Tour. Eddy De Smedt said he treats all riders on the team. He arrived after the early, mostly flat stages and ahead of the mountains - when recovery matters more. The usual treatment is about half an hour after dinner, De Smedt said. Before a stage, he'll do about five or 10 minutes, aimed to reduce stress. In the evenings, after sticking the needles into Tour leader Nibali, ''I'll leave them in for 25-30 minutes, but he falls asleep,'' De Smedt said. ''He's convinced that it's something that can help him. I don't want to exaggerate my part, or the part of acupuncture. It's the whole team ... the doctors are important, the osteopath is important, I'm a small part of it - but also, the bus driver, the cook.'' Nibali has often seemed calm, unfazed, and relaxed. Is that due to the acupuncture? ''I don't know,'' De Smedt said, ''you'll have to draw that conclusion.''

PODIUM FOR PINOT: France's young cycling sensation, Thibaut Pinot, knew going into the time trial that he'd have to turn in the ride of his life to hang onto a spot on the final podium. That's exactly what he did, finishing only 45 seconds behind Jean-Christophe Peraud, and 1:14 ahead of Alejandro Valverde, the two riders who were the greatest threats to his podium hopes. ''I gave everything, at the end I couldn't go on,'' Pinot said after he crossed the line in 12th place on the stage, enough to guarantee a third-place finish on Sunday. Pinot is a climbing specialist who first attracted headlines with a mountain stage win on the 2012 Tour at Porrentruy. He received updates on his time splits with Peraud and Valverde over his radio earpiece throughout Stage 20, and as he neared the end, the team's excitement almost got the better of him. Pinot looked over his shoulder at his following support car and tapped angrily at the side of his helmet. Asked afterwards if his radio had malfunctioned, Pinot said no: ''There was just so much noise and so many people yelling in my ear that I couldn't hear the time gaps, it was a little annoying.''

TOP AMERICAN: American Tejay van Garderen's sixth-place finish on Saturday's stage was enough to lift him one place in the overall standings, and he'll now complete the race fifth, the highest-finishing American of the nine who started. ''I could not have gone any harder, I gave it everything that's for sure,'' Van Garderen said. The performance equals his fifth in 2012, when he also won the white jersey for best young rider. ''I definitely showed that I deserved to be up there in a top position,'' the BMC Racing rider said. He looked like a possible podium contender until Stage 16, when he cracked on the beyond-category Port de Bales climb. ''I learned to never give up. I really had to fight through a lot,'' Van Garderen said. ''I'm really proud of my guys and what I did. It shows you can take your lumps and get back up and fight to the end.''

MAJKA DREAMS BIG: Poland's Rafal Majka will take home two stage victories and the coveted polka dot jersey for best climber, but contrary to rumor, the first-time Tour racer will not be driving back to Poland in a new Aston Martin. The Tour press room was buzzing with talk that after Majka's first win in Stage 14 in Risoul, Tinkoff-Saxo team owner Oleg Tinkoff promised to buy him the luxury automobile as a bonus if he could snag another stage win. That's exactly what he did on Stage 17 to Pla d'Adet, but Majka said he wasn't about to start picking out the color of his flashy British sports car. ''This was only a joke with Oleg, speaking on the bus,'' Majka said. The 24-year-old finished seventh in last year's Giro d'Italia, and there's anticipation to see if Majka can follow his team leader Alberto Contador as a Grand Tour contender. ''Maybe next year I also try the Giro, maybe that's a better place for me, and then I help Alberto in the Tour,'' Majka said. ''Maybe I need to wait a little bit, three years, and then the big dream comes true.''


Associated Press writer Jamey Keaten contributed.

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