Ferocious Tadej Pogacar wins Stage 17 as Jonas Vingegaard holds on, Geraint Thomas dropped at Tour de France
Tadej Pogacar rode to a third stage win on the Tour de France after finishing off a superb team effort from his depleted UAE squad to beat rival Jonas Vingegaard at Peyragudes. Although Pogacar only took four bonus seconds back on the Danish race leader, the two-time champion said he was still “optimistic” about winning a third straight Tour.
Stage 17 highlights: Pogacar powers to victory but Vingegaard holds lead, Thomas dropped
On a day that Tadej Pogacar’s stricken UAE Team Emirates threw everything but the kitchen sink at turning the tables on yellow jersey Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma), the Slovenian two-time champion edged just four seconds closer to the race summit in beating his Danish rival to the line on the steep airstrip at Peyragudes.
A thrilling Stage 17 in the Pyrenees saw Pogacar’s remaining three team-mates blow the race apart on the third of four climbs before American climber Brandon McNulty expertly set up his leader for his third win of the race. But Vingegaard kept his cool to finish in Pogacar’s wheel as the gap between the two strongest riders in the race came down to 2’18" ahead of Thursday’s final summit finish.
Britain’s Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) battled to limit his loses after being dropped on the penultimate climb, the Col de Val Louron-Azet. Thomas crossed the line for fourth place over two minutes down but strengthened his position in the general classification in relation to his rivals for the third spot on the podium.
Thomas now trails Vingegaard by 4’56" but has a cushion of almost three minutes on fourth place Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic) of Colombia. It was a day to forget for the 2018 champion’s Ineos team, who saw British duo Adam Yates and Tom Pidcock plummet down the standings after UAE’s Mikkel Bjerg set to work on the front of the main pack inside the final 50km on the climb of Hourquette d’Ancizan.
'Chapeau to him' - Thomas salutes Pogacar after being dropped on Stage 17
"I didn’t expect that – especially from Bjerg," Thomas admitted after the stage. "He put in a hell of a shift, for the rider that he is. He was cracking me actually – he hurt me so much on that climb. Fair play to them. They really took it on. They deserved the win – chapeau to them."
Pogacar praised his remaining three team-mates for their role in setting up his third successive hat-trick of stage wins on the Tour, claiming UAE Team Emirates should be "proud" of lighting up the race despite their numerical disadvantage.
"Without George [Bennett], Rafal [Majka], Vegard [Stake Laengen] and [Marc] Soler, we can’t do any more. Tomorrow is another chance but I’m happy with my win. I gave absolutely everything. I know that I need to win, there’s no other way, so I have my all for the team right to the line," Pogacar said.
The Tour’s best young rider singled out both Bjerg and then McNulty for their staggering contributions in the first of back-to-back mountaintop finishes in the Pyrenees. "Mikkel rode like a climber today – he set such a good place on the climbs, it was unbelievable. I felt really good and then Brandon did an amazing job. A special mention goes to him."
'To take the stage win is incredible' - Pogacar reflects on Stage 17 victory
Asked if he was still optimistic of winning a third successive Tour title on Sunday in Paris, the bullish 23-year-old said: "Yes. I am optimistic. I think tomorrow is a harder day and we can try again tomorrow."
Romain Bardet (Team DSM) made the biggest gains on the general classification, the Frenchman rising three places to sixth after managing to join the breakaway prior to UAE entering full destruction mode. Dropped by Thomas on the final climb, Bardet rallied to sixth place on the stage behind Kazakstan’s Alexey Lutsenko (Astana-Qazaqstan), crossing the line almost one minute ahead of a chase group led home by his compatriot David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ).
Yates dropped three places to ninth while Pidcock, down to 15th, was replaced in the top 10 by Spain’s Enric Mas (Movistar) ahead of the decisive Stage 18 to Hautacam.
'Huge moment!' - Watch as Ineos' Thomas gets dropped at Tour
Germany’s Simon Geschke (Codifis) fought his way into the day’s breakaway to add six points in his quest to keep hold of the polka dot jersey – although he now faces stiff competition from the man in yellow, who lies just 12 points behind his tally of 64 points.
Belgium’s Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) took second place in the intermediate sprint prior to the climbs to put the green jersey out of mathematical reach from all his rivals – the first half of his team’s quest to take both yellow and green into Paris on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Dutch sprinter Fabio Jakobsen (Quick-Step Alpha Vinyl) put on a brave display to beat the time cut by just 17 seconds – a subplot that may prove significant with two more sprint finishes likely to take place before the end of the race.
Watch as exhausted Jakobsen gets special support from team in emotional finish
Fast start and UAE give breakaway zero chance of survival
A frantic opening hour meant no serious breakaway formed until the first climb of the day when Frenchman Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) went clear with Kazakhstan’s Lutsenko on the Col d’Aspin with just over 70km remaining.
Fifteen riders formed a chase group behind with Ineos Grenadiers looking to use their power in numbers by sending Dani Martinez and Dylan Baarle up the road. If they seemed like the wrong cards for the British team to play, then it soon became apparent why Yates and Pidcock – lurking dangerously in sixth and tenth on GC entering the stage – were not involved.
Winner last weekend on Alpe d’Huez, Pidcock had been sniffing around the front of the peloton and marshalling early moves – but he cracked on the second climb of the day, the Cat.2 ascent of Hourquette d’Ancizan, after UAE put their depleted resources to work on the front of the pack.
With Yates having already gone out the back – and Martinez swiftly called back from the break – Ineos, with their full quota of eight riders, were having a day to forget while UAE, with just two functioning team-mates for Pogacar, were tearing the race apart.
'Deary me!' - Watch dramatic moment key Ineos rider Yates gets dropped at Tour
Bjerg, not especially renowned for his climbing, buried himself on the climb to shred the yellow jersey group and leave Vingegaard with only two domestiques in Van Aert and the American Sepp Kuss.
Pinot and Lutsenko were caught by the chasers with around 30km to go as the riders tackled the Col de Val Louron-Azet, where Bjerg continued setting an infernal tempo. By the time his long shift ended, the yellow jersey group was down to just five riders: Vingegaard, Kuss, Pogacar, McNulty and Thomas.
Norway’s Andreas Leknessund (Team DSM) rode clear of what remained of the breakaway, only to be called back near the summit after his team-mate Bardet was caught and dropped by the yellow jersey group. Both Kuss and Thomas were also jettisoned before the summit as McNulty took over the reins ahead of an opportunistic attack from team-mate Pogacar going over the top.
'Phenomenal' - Watch thrilling moment Pogacar attacks on Stage 17
Vingegaard closed down the move in a flash and the three riders arrived at the foot of the final climb together with over a minute on Thomas and Bardet behind. After all the fireworks, it was perhaps no surprise that the climb to Peyragudes was a tight and cagey affair, with McNulty riding a tempo which saw the trio stretch their lead over everyone behind – including Thomas, who dropped Bardet but could not make any in-roads on the leaders.
"I felt all right but I didn’t quite feel as light on the pedals as I have earlier in the race," the Welshman said after the stage. "I made the call to wait for the group behind rather than try battle, go into the red with the risk of blowing up and maybe losing even more time. I saved the legs a bit and was able to ride a solid pace to the line."
It was not until the final ramped runway to the finish with 300m remaining that Pogacar finally made his move, the Slovenian putting in a sustained unseated surge in a bid to shake off Vingegaard. But the Dane held on – and when Pogacar returned to the saddle, his rival continued dancing on the pedals in pursuit of a second stage win.
With the road levelling out near the finish, however, Pogacar found a second wind and zipped clear of Vingegaard to complete another hat-trick of stage wins on the Tour and cut his deficit by four bonus seconds. Hardly the gains he had hoped to make – but something to play with ahead of Thursday’s Stage 18, which finishes at the ski resort of Hautacam after tough ascents of the Col d’Aubisque and the Col de Spandelles.
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