CHAMPAGNOLE, FRANCE – That’s two for Soren Kragh Andersen at the Tour de France.
The Danish rider who won Stage 14 doubled down and raised his arms in victory in Stage 19 on Friday, with another meticulously timed attack.
Behind him, keeping their last reserves of strength for a time trial on Saturday that will decide the podium of the Tour, race leader Primoz Roglic and his rivals preferred to go to the race while Andersen fought for the prestige of stage victory.
He left 11 other riders with whom he had been in a breakaway for the dead with an acceleration 16 kilometers from the finish in Champagnole in eastern France.
He held up two fingers on the line – one for each of his stage wins.
Canadian Hugo Houle, an Astana Pro Team support driver, finished 57th in Friday’s stage. The 29-year-old from Sainte-Perpetue, Que., Is 46th overall.
The focus is now on the time trial where Roglic will aim to clinch his first Tour title and the first in the 117-year-old race by a Slovenian.
“So far, everything is fine,” he said. “Everything is for me.”
And if he suffers an accident, Slovenia will still have a second chance, in the form of Tadej Pogacar, second overall.
Only 57 seconds separate the compatriots after more than 3,300 kilometers of racing on French roads since the start on August 29.
This cushion should be enough for Roglic, winner of the time trial last year at the Spanish Vuelta, which he won, and at the Giro d’Italia, where he finished third.
But its lead could dry up with a fall, a bad breakdown or any other accident on the delicate course of the Vosges, the last of the five mountain ranges climbed by this Tour.
At the national championships in Slovenia in June, Pogacar beat Roglic by nine seconds in a time trial that also had a similar elevation gain, around 700 meters, but was much shorter, just under 10 miles.
Saturday’s route is more than double, 36.2 kilometers. It will require a nuanced effort, with a first flat part followed by a first ascent then a winding descent before a strong climb in hairpin bends towards a small ski resort, at La Planche des Belles Filles. The finishing ramp is a very steep 20% incline, with other sections before the more than 10% one.
Pogacar, who showered his first Tour with his precocious talent, winning two stages, and who turns 22 the day after arriving in Paris, can be counted to give it all again.
“If I’m having a good day it’s a course that’s fine for me,” he said. “If someone had told me that I would be in this position before the Tour, I would never have believed it.
Back in Slovenia, Roglic is already heading towards cult status. Even the coronavirus masks carry the image of the runner who started out as a ski jumper before switching to cycling in 2012 after a heartbreaking accident.
“When I am asked if Primoz is going to win, I tell them that he is already our winner,” said Matjaz Svagan, mayor of the hometown of Roglic, who prepared notice boards that read “Primoz Roglic, our pride “.
Behind Roglic and Pogacar – nicknamed by some Rog and Pog – the third overall, Miguel Angel Lopez of Colombia will look to secure his place on the podium. He is 1 minute and 27 seconds behind the lead, which should put Roglic out of reach for him.
The 146 riders – 30 fewer than almost three weeks ago – would have been 147 if a bee hadn’t knocked down Lukas Pöstlberger on Friday by biting the Austrian in the mouth shortly after the start of the 166-kilometer stage in Bourg-en-Bresse. He suffered an allergic reaction, was rushed to hospital and recovered quickly, but his run lasted just two days before champagne corks appeared on the boulevard des Champs-Élysées in Paris .
For runners like Andersen, not chasing the overall title, Friday was the last chance to win a stage before Sunday’s traditional procession in Paris which usually ends with a sprint disputed by runners not vying for the iconic yellow jersey.
Among them there will likely be Sam Bennett and Peter Sagan, who have been locked in an exciting battle throughout the Tour for the green jersey awarded to the riders who have accumulated the most points on the sprints during and at the end of the stages. .
Sagan has already won the points sprint jersey seven times in previous tournaments.
Bennett of Ireland is aiming to win his first and has a 55-point lead, which almost certainly means Sagan won’t bring him back to Slovakia this year.
But as they locked the horns again on Stage 19, Andersen outsmarted them both. Moments after running out of steam on a short climb in pursuit of Italian driver Matteo Trentin, third in the green jersey standings, Andersen jumped up.
“It was my moment,” he says.
Pushing to the finish on his own, unsure of the extent of his lead, he shouted on a race organizer’s bike for an update on the time gap. About a minute came the answer.
Accomplished job. Again.
“Incredible,” he said. “Memories for life.”