June 12, 2015

VILLARD-DE-LANS, France (AP) Vincenzo Nibali signaled his return to form by claiming the overall lead at the Criterium du Dauphine following a rain-soaked mountain stage on Friday.

Nibali, who won the Tour de France last year, launched a late attack from a group of breakaway riders but was beaten by former world champion Rui Costa for the stage win at the ski resort of Villard-de-Lans in the French Alps.

With less than a month to go before the Tour de France, Nibali - who has not won a race this season - seems to be peaking at the right time after spending more than 80 kilometers in the front group. The Italian leads Costa by 29 seconds overall, with Alejandro Valverde in third place, one more second back.

''Frankly, I was looking for the stage victory more than the yellow-blue jersey,'' Nibali said. ''I'm crazy. I didn't go for such a long breakaway since I rode in the young categories.''

Previous leader Tejay van Garderen dropped to fifth overall, 42 seconds behind Nibali.

The Italian was part of a group including Van Garderen, Romain Bardet and Jean-Christophe Peraud that split from the peloton just 30 kilometers into the sixth stage out of Saint-Bonnet-en-Champsaur. They were chased by the peloton and reined in progressively before Tony Martin and Nibali managed to escape for good.

Nibali spent about 20 kilometers on his own before Costa, Martin, Tony Gallopin and Valverde joined him.

In pouring rain, Nibali did most of the work, and Martin, a time trial specialist, was dropped 22 kilometers from the finish. Nibali attacked about 1.5 kilometers from the line but Costa countered his move to claim his first win at the Tour de France warm-up event.

''We didn't know it would rain and be cold in addition to racing on a hard course,'' Costa said. ''It started very fast and it never slowed down. At some stage, the peloton exploded. The final climb was hard. Nibali went with two kilometers to go. I preferred to keep my own pace and handle the few forces I had left.''

Saturday's stage is another trek in the mountains featuring a hilltop finish. The race, which has never been won by an Italian rider, ends on Sunday.

''I needed to have at least one race at the front like today because my last race was quite a long time ago,'' Nibali said. ''It was the Tour de Romandie in April, after which I recovered from the early part of the season that didn't go that well for me. Now that I'm in the lead, looking at defending it will be a hard task considering the two difficult stages to come, and the strong riders who are still in contention.''

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