Pogačar wins dramatic battle on hardest Tour stage

The hardest summit finish at the 2021 Tour de France saw a battle of the top climbers, with race leader Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) claiming a superb victory in the final sprint against Richard Carapaz (INEOS Grenadiers) and Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma).

Pogačar took a win after an attacking performance on the hardest summit finish of the 2021 Tour de France, covering a late attack from Carapaz, then sprinting to victory in the final hundred metres atop the Col du Portet. 

"Fantastic day," said Pogačar. "To win in the yellow, it’s something I cannot describe."

The race leader made the most of a day of hard pace-making by his team, praising the efforts of his support squad not just for the win on the stage but throughout the Tour.

“The team worked really hard every day to defend yellow," said Pogačar. "Every day was good for breakaways so every day we couldn’t do much, we just defend, but today it was a good course for us to control much better.

"The guys did a fantastic job.  We were 50-50 whether we’d go for the stage or just defend, but the guys felt good so we go for it."

Pogačar attacked clear of the main group of contenders with eight kilometres to go, but Vingegaard and Carapaz were able to follow the surge and stick with the race leader. Vingegaard split the work with Pogačar and distance the other GC riders, but Carapaz refused to help and instead saved his energy for one last attack coming into the final kilometre. 

"The three of us went clear but only me and Jonas (Vingegaard) worked together. I tried a couple of times to go clear, more time is always better. They were really good today, I just sprinted in the last 50 metres and that was enough."

The race leader talked with Vingegaard during the stage, with the pair looking at their Ecuadorian counterpart.

“It was nothing much," said Pogačar of the conversation. "He said to me that he thought Carapaz was bluffing, I knew it also. There was nothing unusual, this is the tactic in cycling. Then he tried to attack, I had the drive to catch him and hold his wheel, but it was really hard.”

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Race leader Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) went into the stage with a five minute and 18 second lead over Rigoberto Uran (EF Education-Nippo) as the peloton faced the hardest summit finish of the race, the Col du Portet at the end of a 177-kilometre stage on Bastille Day. 

Pierre Rolland (B&B Hotels) tried to fly the flag and force the move early but he was brought back and then the early move was subsequently established.

Lukas Pöstlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe), Danny van Poppel (Intermarché-Wanty Gobert), Dorian Godon (AG2R-Citroën), Anthony Pérez (Cofidis), Anthony Turgis (TotalEnergies) and Maxime Chevalier (B&B-KTM) jumped clear and steadily pushed out their advantage over a peloton content to see them go.

Julien Bernard (Trek-Segafredo) tried a long, solo effort with the break already well on its way, but despite his determination, he wasn't able to make inroads and he eventually went back to the peloton.

UAE Team Emirates initially set the pace with Vegard Stake Laengen set on his grinding mode. The front group's lead pushed out to eight minutes and Arkea-Samsic came to the front, sacrificing riders to maintain a solid tempo and set the race up for their leader and mountains jersey aspirant, Nairo Quintana.

The intermediate sprint saw van Poppel exercise his sprint muscles and win from the break, while back in the peloton Team BikeExchange's Michael Matthews claimed the most points available, but the incumbent green jersey, Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-QuickStep) was on his wheel and only conceded a single point's difference to the British rider.  

The six riders at the head of the race held their near eight-minute lead into the foot of the Col de Peyresourde and Arkea-Samsic unveiled their plan for the stage, with Elie Gesbert and Quintana attacking together with a smooth acceleration of pace. King of the Mountains leader Wout Poels (Bahrain Victorious) saw his rival for the polka dot jersey going clear and moved to cover the move along with Pierre Latour (TotalEnergies). 

The quartet rapidly cut into the advantage of the breakaway, but the peloton also upped the pace and stayed within 40 seconds of the attack. Latour attacked as the peloton closed in, with Gesbert the one that had expended the most energy at the head of the move throughout. Latour's aggression never achieved a large advantage as he headed over the peak of the Col de Peyresourde with half a minute's lead on the peloton, three and a half minutes to the early breakaway riders, who had conceded half of their lead on the first climb of the day and looked doomed.

Perez, Turgis and Godon hit out at the base of the Col de Val Louren-Azet to form an all-French trio at the front of the race on Bastille Day as at the same point countryman Latour was enveloped by the peloton. Perez struck out on his own, with Godon following and staying close behind up the climb but not quite catching him summiting the Col de Val Louren-Azet second, 10 seconds behind Perez.

Poels crested the mountain third, claiming an additional four points and extending his lead, with Quintana fifth and adding two points to his tally. Pogačar claimed sixth with a minimal acceleration to take a single point to show the race leader wasn't against repeating his feat of possessing three jerseys again in Paris. He made a similar move last year to pick up a few extra points over an uncontested mountain point over the Col de Madeleine, which ended up being his entire margin of victory in the classification.

Godon caught Perez and they began the brutal ascent of the Col du Portet, with just under four minutes lead on the UAE Team Emirates-led peloton. First Davide Formolo, then Brandon McNulty, then Rafal Majka expended themselves in the pace-setting for Pogačar. Perez attacked and then did his best to hold off the pre-race favourites as they went hard up the climb, but the race was going to be decided by the top climbers. Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) and Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) were the first to show weakness and slip off the back of the remnants of the peloton. 

Majka ramped up the pace and Pogačar put in a series of big attacks with eight kilometres remaining in the race, blowing past Perez with the attack. Vingegaard and Carapaz were able to follow the assaults, with Vingegaard even helping set the pace to distance his rivals in the general classification battle. 

Australian Ben O'Connor, Wilco Kelderman (BORA-hansgrohe), Pello Bilbao (Bahrain Victorious), David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) and Uran weren't able to follow the flurry of surges, but settled into their own tempos and followed behind, though the hard combined pace from the leaders saw them steadily distanced. Gaudu tried an attack, and gained some time on the group, but continued to lose time to the front three.

Pogačar slowed up a touch within the last two kilometres, leaving Vingegaard on the front of the race briefly before reigniting the attacks. Vingegaard and Carapaz were quick to respond and stayed with the Slovenian, before Carapaz, who had been refusing to work on the front of the group, launched a stinging attack. Vingegaard was distanced but Pogačar was able to claw his way back to the Ecuadorian's wheel with just over a kilometre remaining.

Vingegaard set his own pace and was able to fight back onto the front pair with just over two hundred metres to go. Pogačar had been biding his time in Carapaz's wheel, and wound up his sprint with 150 metres left to the line.

He immediately jumped clear and won clutching the yellow jersey, the first time the 22-year-old has claimed a win in the famous maillot jaune. Vingegaard proved stronger than Carapaz in the final to claim second.

Gaudu hung on to finish second, a minute and 19 seconds down on the stage winner, with O'Connor surging clear of his chasing group to finish one minute and 26 seconds behind, conceding some time to the top three in the GC battle, but moving himself closer to Uran's fourth overall and shoring up fifth place. 

The Tour de France continues with Stage 18, another big day in the mountains, with the peloton summiting the dual hors categorie climbs of the Col du Tourmalet and the Luz Ardiden over a total stage distance of just 129.7 kilometres. Watch the racing action from 2130 AEST on SBS, SBS OnDemand and the SKODA Tour Tracker.

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8 min read
Published 15 July 2021 at 2:35am
By SBS Cycling Central
Source: SBS