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Rodriguez wins Alpine stage as Vingegaard retains slim Tour lead

INEOS - Grenadiers' Spanish rider Carlos Rodriguez. Photo: Thomas Samson/AFP)

Defending champion Jonas Vingegaard fought off a ferocious attack from Tadej Pogacar on the first of four Alpine tests in the Tour de France on Saturday as Spain’s Carlos Rodriguez won stage 14.

Ineos rider Rodriguez climbed into third place overall by one second from Australian rider Jai Hindley with a great climb and daredevil downhill finish.

“Its incredible, something I always dreamed of,” said 22-year-old Rodriguez as Ineos won again following Michal Kwiatkowski’s triumph on Friday.

Vingegaard now leads Pogacar by 10 seconds after winning a war of nerves in the battle for the title.

“It was a very hard fight once again today. I was happy to gain that second in the end,” the Dane said with a broad smile.

On the last of the day’s ascents, Jumbo’s Sepp Kuss took Vingegaard as far as he could before Pogacar’s own lieutenant Adam Yates attacked with the Dane isolated.

Pogacar then launched his blistering turn of pace and opened a five second gap only for the Dane to doggedly track and then reel in the exasperated Slovenian with 2km still to climb.

Vingegaard drew level with his younger rival and eyed him, but the latter refused to look back.

Pogacar tried again atop the 17km climb to burst past last year’s winner but was blocked in the narrow passage of fans by a motorbike carrying a photographer.

Instead Vingegaard then burst ahead and took three bonus seconds at the top of that last climb.

An infuriated Pogacar wasted precious energy racing past his rival in a show of anger, but later refused to be drawn on the episode. 

“If I have to draw a balance here it was a good, positive day and we can go into the coming days with confidence,” he said.

“As for the motorbike, it couldn’t move, it is what it is,” he said.

While all this was going on Rodriguez pulled back and drew level just after the hilltop before dashing off downhill to win the stage itself.

The favourites end another stage still standing and holding their nerve in this tightly matched war of attrition.

A high altitude summit finish, a day off, a daredevil downhill dash and an individual race against the clock over the next three stages however could decide the winner.

Fear and falls

French hope Romain Bardet suffered a race-ending crash as rain-slicked roads made for treacherous racing.

Bardet and English rider James Shaw fell at speed on a downhill stretch after the day’s first climb.

A runner-up at the Tour de France and world championships, Bardet had been in 12th overnight and was targeting an overall finish in the top five.

Ahead of the stage, the series of Alpine descents had put Gino Maeder’s recent fatal crash in the Tour of Switzerland firmly in the minds of many in the peloton.

Earlier, after a sudden shower, there was a mass fall on a corner just 5km into stage 14 that forced organisers to halt the race for 25 minutes.

South African rider Louis Meintjes, 13th overall, suffered a broken collarbone and did not rejoin the race either. Spaniard Antonio Pedrero was evacuated on a stretcher and Colombian Esteban Chaves restarted but pulled out ten minutes later.

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