Tadej Pogacar unleashed a devastating turn of speed to win stage six of the Tour de France on Thursday, but defending champion Jonas Vingegaard took the overall race lead 25 seconds ahead of the Slovenian.
On the Tour’s first summit finish, Team UAE leader Pogacar went for broke with 2km to go and finished 24sec ahead of Vingegaard. Overnight leader Jai Hindley now sits in third place.
On the 144.9km run from Tarbes to Cauterets in the lush Pyrenees the Dutch Jumbo-Visma team looked to have the X-factor in Wout Van Aert acting as Vingegaard’s sherpa with Pogacar isolated from his teammates.
But with 4km to go Van Aert peeled off and almost keeled over after his efforts on a 10 percent gradient section.
Vingegaard and Pogacar powered ahead alone after dropping everyone from the day’s breakaway on the high Tourmalet pass.
When Pogacar made his move with the roadside crowds leaving the narrowest of passages Vingegaard desperately clung on as the Slovenian pulled away for a moral victory.
“I’m really happy to have just one stage win, you can’t get cocky,” said the 24-year-old Pogacar.
“When Jumbo started pulling I was ready to pack my bags and go home,” he said.
“Wout (van Aert) goes faster than the race chief’s car. But I played it smart and told myself I mustn’t give up, at that point I just held on.”
Pogacar started the Tour strongly but Vingegaard struck back on stage five before this new enthralling instalment of their internecine duel offered up some more gripping fare.
Defending champion Vingegaard and two-time winner Pogacar were billed as the stars of the Tour and so it is proving to be.
“This is an exciting Tour de France,” said Vingegaard. “The first six days have been hard, the start in the Basque Country has made it amazing.
“First of all I’m happy to be back in the yellow jersey,” said the Dane.
“Tadej was just stronger today and he deserved to win.”
Overnight leader Hindley’s 15 minutes of fame were sealed on the 17km slog up the highest peak of the Tour so far, the Col du Tourmalet.
The Australian paid for his efforts in the breakaway on stage five and dropped off the pace as Vingegaard put the hammer down.
One interested onlooker was Emmanuel Macron, the French president joining Tour director Christian Prudhomme in the car following the race leaders.
American rider Neilson Powless of the Education First team retook the polka dot climb jersey thanks to being in the mix as far as the Tourmalet.
The climbs of Col d’Aspin and Col du Tourmalet marked out stage six as the toughest test so far.
Stage seven on Friday takes the Tour away from the Pyrenees and through the world renowned vineyards of the Bordeaux region.
“It’s flat, superflat and easy for the teams of the sprinters to control,” race designer Thierry Gouvenou told AFP Thursday.
There is a 2km long pancake flat home-straight guaranteeing a mass bunch sprint finish at Bordeaux where British sprinter Mark Cavendish could write a chapter of his own by claiming a record-breaking 35th stage win.
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