Tadej Pogacar won the penultimate mountain stage of the Tour de France, but race leader Jonas Vingegaard stuck right behind him to move closer to his first Tour title.
Pogacar, the two-time defending Tour champion, prevailed atop an air strip summit finish in Peyragudes. Vingegaard finished in the same time, losing just four seconds (due to Pogacar’s time bonus) of his comfortable lead of 2 minutes, 22 seconds.
“On a finish like this, he’s a bit more explosive than I am,” Vingegaard said. “In the end, I can be happy with how it went. I am pretty satisfied.”
The Dane Vingegaard, runner-up to Pogacar last year, can all but clinch his first Tour de France title if he sticks with Pogacar again to Thursday’s summit finish at Hautacam.
After that, the only other realistic chance for Pogacar to gain time is in Saturday’s flat, 25-mile time trial. In the Tour’s other time trial, on the opening day, Pogacar beat VIngegaard by eight seconds on an 8.2-mile course.
The Slovenian Pogacar was pulled up Wednesday’s final climb by American teammate Brandon McNulty, with Vingegaard closing out the lead trio. Pogacar waited until 300 meters left to attack, and by then he had no chance to gain significant time. Vingegaard countered before Pogacar pulled back ahead in the final straightaway with Vingegaard sticking to his back wheel.
Pogacar lamented that half of his UAE Team Emirates squad has been knocked out of the Tour, including key climber Rafal Majka before Wednesday’s stage due to a thigh injury.
“We were only four [riders], and to take the stage win is already incredible,” Pogacar said. “We cannot try more. We see tomorrow is another chance, but for now I’m happy that I win today.”
Pogacar said he was optimistic he can still win the Tour.
“Tomorrow is a more hard day,” he said.
Vingegaard isn’t ready to celebrate with the ceremonial ride into Paris coming on Sunday.
“I don’t want to think about it,” he said. “I take it day by day.”
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