Jonas Vingegaard climbed into a rock-solid lead in the Tour de France on Wednesday as his main rival Tadej Pogacar lost almost six minutes on the toughest climb on the 21 stages.
Austrian Felix Gall of the AG2R-Citroen team won stage 17, billed as the “Queen” stage with 69km of Alpine climbing, ahead of Simon Yates.
Defending champion Vingegaard of Jumbo Visma increased his lead in the overall standings to a crushing 7min 35sec, with Pogacar still second and his UAE teammate Adam Yates up to third at 10min 45sec.
After the race, Vingegaard strolled around the paddock with his daughter in his arms, while his defeated rival sat on a pile of tyres staring head down at the ground.
“I don’t know what happened, I was empty at the bottom of the climb. I’m extremely disappointed,” said Pogacar, who fell early in the stage.
The incident happened when an escape was forming. Vingegaard waited for Pogacar to rejoin the pack.
After kissing his wedding ring while crossing the finish line, Vingegaard was asked if he felt he had clinched the Tour.
“I think so. I have more than seven minutes lead now so I’m very happy,” said the 26-year-old who won the Tour in 2022.
“But we’re not in Paris yet. Tadej will never give up. You know that,” he said.
Ineos rider Carlos Rodriguez slipped to fourth on Tuesday but let slip a little more time here. He is 1min 16sec behind Adam Yates and 18sec ahead of twin Simon Yates of Jayco Alula.
Storm clouds gathered too early
After Vingegaard pulverised Pogacar in the individual time trial the day before, the Slovenian vowed to fight back, saying he was hoping for bad weather.
But the forecast storms passed in the early hours of the morning and the run from Saint-Gervais Mont Blanc to Courchevel took place in searing heat.
Both the leading riders and their teams were dope tested an hour before the race set off from the pretty Alpine resort.
With around 7km remaining of the final climb up the Col de la Loze, Pogacar told his team radio “I’m dead! I can’t go on.”
Vingegaard skipped away. Adam Yates, freed of his services pacing Pogacar, was on the Dane’s tail.
Pogacar said he felt dreadful watching rivals climb away from him.
“I thought I was even going to lose my place on the podium,” he said, before thanking team-mate Rafal Majka for staying with him all the way to the finish line.
Over the final few hundred metres, two-time champion Pogacar in turn paced his teammate so they could cross the line together.
On a Tour where motorbikes have been much in th news, Vingegaard was stopped by one on the upper reaches of the last mountain after a vehicle stalled, blocking the race director’s car.
A dense crowd of excited fans packed the roadside, as they have done throughout the Tour, leaving Vingegaard no path to ride round the stopped cars.
The cool Dane was far from flummoxed and was even slightly annoyed that spectators then gave him a shove to help him get moving again.
“I had to stand still for a moment, there were vehicles in front of me. I didnt see any problems with the fans, But it’s not nice if its going to decide the race, Vingegaard said.
There have been so many incidents, a review of security is likely.
The race designer Thierry Gouvenou seemed livid about the incident when he stepped from the car at the finish line.
On Thursday, the race heads back to flat terrain, after four epic stages in the Alps that will go down in Tour folklore.
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