HAUTACAM, France (AP) — Barring a crash, Jonas Vingegaard is likely to be wearing the yellow jersey when the Tour de France ends in Paris on Sunday.
Vingegaard responded to a series of attacks from defending champion Tadej Pogacar on Thursday and ultimately dropped his main rival in the last big mountain stage of this year’s race to increase his overall lead to three minutes, 26 seconds.
With only one big test left — a 41-kilometer (25.5-mile) time trial scheduled for Saturday — the Jumbo-Visma leader from Denmark seems all but guaranteed to win his maiden Tour title after reaching the Hautacam resort on his own.
“It’s incredible. I told my girlfriend and daughter this morning that I wanted to win the stage for them. I’m happy and proud that I won for them,” Vingegaard said. “I need to stay focused and keep taking it day by day. I don’t want to talk about winning the Tour yet. Let’s talk about it in two days.”
Pogacar, the two-time defending champion, took all the risks and crashed on a downhill as he relentlessly tried to isolate Vingegaard. Back on his bike, Pogacar cracked about four kilometers from the finish in the final ascent, with his hopes of winning a third consecutive title all but dashed.
“I went all in for the yellow,” Pogacar said. “I did not give up, I pushed my limits and I’m proud of today. Today the best man won.”
Vingegaard then went solo to claim a second stage win following his success at the Col du Granon last week in the Alps on the day he took control of the race. Pogacar crossed the finish line more than one minute behind Vingegaard.
The final big mountain stage of this year’s race got off a lively start with a myriad of attacks outside the city of Lourdes.
Vingegaard’s Jumbo-Visma team managed to put the powerful and versatile Belgian Wout Van Aert in the day’s breakaway. By sending the strong all-rounder up front, the mighty Dutch team made sure he would be available later in the stage to pace Vingegaard.
And it was indeed Van Aert who made Pogacar crack with his frenetic tempo in the last climb. Van Aert completed the stage podium.
Earlier, Pogacar had asked Brandon McNulty to set a fast pace on the narrow and winding roads leading up to the Col de Spandelles, the only unprecedented climb of the 2022 Tour.
Pogacar launched his first attack in that climb. But Vingegaard looked unfazed and immediately took the wheel of his rival. The duo was later joined by Vingegaard domestique Sepp Kuss, who positioned himself at the front to guide his leader.
Standing up on his pedals, Pogacar tried in vain to drop Vingegaard with another sharp attack closer to the summit before Geraint Thomas accelerated. Pogacar waited patiently in Vingegaard’s wake then went off again with Vingegaard responding as they overtook and dropped Thomas in the grueling ascent.
Pogacar went full speed in the technical downhill and Vingegaard was forced to ride hard to follow the pace. The Danish rider had a scare when his back wheel swerved but it was Pogacar who made a mistake. He misjudged a curve and went down in the gravel on the side of the road.
“It took me a little bit by surprise, and there was gravel on the side and I hit the ground, but I’m OK,” Pogacar said.
The crash took place at a moderate speed and the UAE-Emirates rider was quickly back on his bike with road rash on his left thigh. Vingegaard then waited for Pogacar and both men shook hands before their final showdown on the road to Hautacam.
Thomas, the 2018 Tour champion, finished the stage in fourth place, 2:54 off the pace. The Ineos-Grenadiers leader was third overall, eight minutes behind Vingegaard.
More AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports