A fifth Tour de France stage victory in only 38 stages to date – and a first ever in the famous yellow jersey – saw Tadej Pogacar all but secure a second triumph in the world’s biggest bike race.
The 22-year-old UAE Team Emirates rider left rivals Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) and Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) for dead in the closing moments of the Col du Portet – but only after Ecuador’s Carapaz put in a stinging attack that had Pogacar on the ropes and sent the Danish debutant Vingegaard very much in the red.
Pogacar reeled Carapaz in and then sat on his rival’s wheel – mirroring the Ineos leader’s antics over the course of the entire climb – as Vingegaard fought back after the tunnel marking the final kilometre. A last kick on the sweeping ramp to the finish was enough for Pogacar to take his second stage win of the race by three seconds over Vingegaard, with Carapaz crossing the line another second back.
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Frenchman David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) gave the home fans something to cheer on Bastille Day by riding clear of a chase group to take fourth place at 1’19” before Australia’s Ben O’Connor (AG2R-Citroen) rallied to complete the top five as the other GC favourites crossed the line in dribs and drabs.
“It’s a perfect day and to win in the yellow is something I cannot describe,” Pogacar said after extending his lead in the general classification to 5’39” over Vingegaard. By taking the 40 KOM points at the finish, the Slovenian also moved up into second place in the polka dot jersey classification, just 11 points down on the Dutchman Wout Poels (Bahrain-Victorious).
After bluffing his way to third place, Carapaz rose to third place at 5’43” with Colombia’s Rigo Uran (EF Education-Nippo) now over seven minutes down in fourth place after finishing in ninth place.
The 178.4km stage from Muret concluded with three climbs in the final third, including the race’s second of three mountaintop finishes. A break of six riders arrived at the foot of the first climb, the Col de Peyresourde, with a lead of eight minutes after battling strong winds and drizzle for 120km.
On the French national holiday of Quatorze Juillet it was no surprise to see four Frenchman – Anthony Turgis (Team TotalEnergies), Maxime Chavelier (B&B Hotels), Anthony Perez (Cofidis) and Dorian Godon (AG2R-Citroen) – in the move alongside Austria's Lukas Postlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe) and the Dutchman Danny van Poppel (Intermarche-Wanty-Gobert).
Turgis crested the Peyresourde in pole position with the advantage of the break practically halved following some hefty tempo being ridden by Pogacar’s UAE Team Emirates, a short-lived move from Poels and his polka dot rival Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic) coming to nothing. A lone foray off the front by Pierre Latour (Team TotalEnergies) also came to nothing ahead of the Col de Val Louron-Azet, where Perez rode clear of Godon to take maximum points as the remainder of the break fell back.
‘Nothing unusual’ – Pogacar ‘knew’ Carapaz was bluffing
The two Frenchman came together on the descent to the foot of the Col du Portet but their advantage of 3’20” was never going to be enough once the race for yellow began behind. And so it proved when Perez, the last man standing, was swept up with 8km remaining after a two probing moves by Pogacar had blown the race apart.
Coming into the stage as the yellow jersey’s nearest challenger, Uran initially kept in step with Pogacar, Vingegaard and Carapaz, only to drop back to a chase group containing his compatriot and teammate Sergio Higuita, the Frenchman Gaudu, Australia’s O’Connor, Spain’s Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Victorious) and his Belgian teammate Dylan Teuns, and the Dutchman Wilco Kelderman (Bora-Hansgrohe), the latter fighting back after a crash on the previous descent.
Pogacar and Vingegaard exchanged pulls on the front as Carapaz grimaced behind, bearing his teeth and refusing to contribute. And if it looked like the 2019 Giro d’Italia champion was on the rivet, he finally showed his hand with an attack in the final two kilometres to drop Vingegaard and severely test the man in yellow.
If the impressive Vingegaard went deep and managed to rejoin the leaders inside the closing few hundred metres, neither he nor Carapaz had any answer when Pogacar pulled the trigger to secure a memorable maiden victory in the maillot jaune.
The Tour continues on Thursday with another summit finish at Luz Ardiden in a 130km Stage 18 that also includes an ascent of the legendary Col du Tourmalet. With Pogacar’s lead in the GC practically unassailable, it will be a day for his rivals to battle it out for the remaining places in the top 10.
'Carapaz probably attacked too late' - Wiggins
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