Saint-Lary-Soulan (France) (AFP)
Tadej Pogacar emerged above the clouds atop the Pyrenean Pass of Portet to extend his overall lead and win the 17th stage of the Tour de France on Wednesday after an epic fight with his two closest pursuers, Jonas Vingegaard and Richard Carapaz.
Ecuadorian Carapaz launched a lightning attack 1.5km from the finish at the 2,200m summit, but was anguished by defending champion Pogacar, for whom it was an iconic career moment, winning a difficult stage with the general leader’s yellow jersey already on his back.
After pulverizing the peloton on the time trial of stage 5, the Slovenian won his second victory on this Tour to extend his lead over the surprising Dane Vingegaard to 5min 39sec.
# photo1The discreet Carapaz climbed to third place in the general classification four seconds behind, after Rigoberto Uran was let go on the last slope. The Colombian slipped to fourth place at 7min 17sec.
“It was the most difficult stage of the Tour, and I dedicate this victory to my team who have worked so hard for me here,” said Pogacar.
“This Tour is not over until the last lap of the Champs-Elysées,” he said when asked if he believed his title defense was now sealed.
On the day of the French national holiday of July 14, there were almost as many Slovenian flags on the final climb as there were French flags and a healthy handful of Basque berets were hoisted in the huge crowd that lined the tracks.
– The assault of July 14 –
French fans had a lot to smile about as local FDJ prospect David Gaudu placed fourth at a finish line above the clouds in this remote corner of France inhabited by bears.
# photo2The promising climber Gaudu ran the stage with the French tricolor on his helmet.
Another French team AG2R saw their Australian podium hope Ben O’Connor consolidate fifth place overall by completing the top five of the day after winning the alpine stage to the ski resort of Tignes.
AG2R boss Vincent Lavenu told AFP that the stage, with a 36 km steep climb on the final section, was a “race for second place and half of the contenders will be abandoned here”.
This turned out to be the case, but Ineos Carapaz’s man, who looked to be struggling after the top three broke up with the contenders 8km away from home, continued to fight with his late glare but unsuccessful.
Before Vingegaard attacked an elite clique on Mont Ventoux last week, he was an unknown.
Since then, the painfully shy Jumbo man from the remote Danish region of North Jutland has become a serious contender for the podium.
With his team reduced to four riders, he admitted that Wednesday “the plan was just to follow”.
He strengthened his hold on second place by surviving the climb of the Col du Portet and said he was “relieved, happy and proud” and explained that his family was at the finish line.
The chef had warm words for the man on his tail.
“He’s fantastic, a top-level rider,” said Pogacar, who like Vingegaard is on his second Tour de France.
“I like to run against him. He’s a great guy and he could win a Tour de France soon, ”said Pogacar.
A final summit finish awaits the riders on Thursday before Saturday’s potentially decisive time trial and Sunday’s parade in Paris.
© 2021 AFP