Tadej Pogacar claimed victory on the 17th stage of the Tour de France, but it was Jonas Vingegaard who got one step closer to the title when he finished on the defending champion’s wheel to retain the leader’s yellow jersey on Wednesday.
Pogacar’s late acceleration at the top of the final climb, an 8km effort at 7.8%, earned him his third win of this year’s Tour and gave him a 10-second time bonus.
However, Vingegaard took six seconds with his second place, meaning he still leads the Slovenian by a comfortable two minutes 18 seconds on Thursday’s final mountain stage, a grueling Pyrenean trek to Hautacam.
Geraint Thomas, the 2018 champion, again limited damage by finishing fourth behind Pogacar’s UAE Emirates team-mate Brandon McNulty and cementing his third place overall as the final podium took shape.
Thomas, who crossed the line 2:07 behind Pogacar, is 4:56 behind Vingegaard’s pace in the general classification.
Thursday’s stage was another chance for Pogacar to pop the Danish rider, but last year’s runner-up Vingegaard seemed unperturbed by the three category one climbs that completed the second part of the 129.7km stage from Saint Gaudens. crossed.
Only in the final meters did Pogacar take a slight advantage on a 13% incline to take the day’s laurels, but he now faces a seemingly insurmountable task with only Thursday’s stage and Saturday’s final time trial to topple the situation. to throw.
“I fought to the finish. Of course I lost four seconds, but I’m still happy,” said Vingegaard.
“We never know when Tadej will attack, often he attacks when you least expect it. You just have to be vigilant and that was me today.”
Pogacar, who lost two more teammates after Marc Soler finished outside the time limit on Tuesday and Rafal Majka was injured in the morning, showed he would not go down without a fight.
“I don’t think Vingegaard is too strong. It was a good day for us. We were strong as a team, even though there are only four of us (in the team). We remain positive and today’s victory gives us a a lot of motivation for tomorrow,” said Pogacar.
“We still have resources to fight and we will give everything to get the yellow jersey back.”
In the first kilometres, Thibaut Pinot jumped forward, followed by Alexei Lutsenko from Kazakhstan, in the climb to the Col d’Aspin (12 km at 6.5%) as the Groupama-FDJ rider hoped France could take their first stage win of this Tour To deliver.
They were chased by a dozen riders who hovered 30 seconds behind them and were joined by Romain Bardet after the Frenchman jumped away from the pack at the top of the climb.
Mikkel Bjerg’s acceleration at the front of the pack in the Hourquette Ancizan provided a potential attack from Pogacar as riders popped out of the rear like corn.
Among the casualties was Adam Yates, while Pinot and Lutsenko’s two-minute lead at the top was reduced to 1:20.
The leading duo was caught by the chasing group on the early slopes of the Col de Val Louron-Azet (10.7 km at 6.8%).
McNulty’s diabolical pace in that penultimate climb was too much for Frenchman David Gaudu, then Colombian Nairo Quintana before grabbing and dropping all the breakaway riders.
Sepp Kuss, the only teammate left with Vingegaard, broke loose as Pogacar’s Lieutenant McNulty continued his demolition work, ejecting Thomas from behind.
Pogacar attacked near the top, but Vingegaard covered easily and the duo started the final climb with McNulty 1:20 ahead of Thomas and Bardet.
The Brit dropped Bardet in the latter part of the climb and he now leads fourth-seeded Quintana with a massive 2:57 and fifth-seeded Gaudu with 3:01.