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Awe-inspiring Vingegaard edges closer to Tour de France...

Sport

CYCLING

Awe-inspiring Vingegaard edges closer to Tour de France glory

The Yellow Jersey Danish rider Jonas Vingegaard during the 18th stage of the Tour de France 2022 over 143.2km from Lourdes to Hautacam, France, 21 July 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Guillaume Horcajuelo)

Denmark’s Jonas Vingegaard displayed his strength on the 2022 Tour de France on a dramatic day in the Pyrenees.

Jonas Vingegaard put the hammer down on the Tour de France on Thursday, extending his lead massively with an awe-inspiring victory in the final mountain stage, as defending champion Tadej Pogacar’s all-in strategy backfired. 

Vingegaard went solo some four kilometres from the finish at Hautacam after massive work from his Jumbo-Visma teammates, Pogacar slowly disappearing from his rear-view mirror and crossing the line in second, one minute and four seconds behind. 

The 23-year-old Pogacar now trails the Dane by 3:26 ahead of Saturday’s individual time trial after a flat 19th stage on Friday.

The Slovenian threw everything at Vingegaard in the penultimate climb to the Col de Spandelles, also throwing caution to the wind in the descent on a gruelling 143.2km trek from Lourdes.

Pogacar crashed after Vingegaard also came close to hitting the deck and, after the duo called a brief truce, the strongest climber prevailed where his compatriot Bjarne Riis produced in 1996 one of the most astonishing efforts ever seen on the Tour.

Riis later admitted taking performance-enhancing drugs to win that Tour and his name was taken off the list of champions in 2007, only for the International Cycling Union to add it again following legal examination of the case.

“I won the stage and I’m happy about it. There’s still two stages and the time trial. I have not won the Tour yet … we have to take it day by day,” Vingegaard said after his second stage win of the race.

Pogacar admitted the best man had won.

“Today Jumbo were so strong. I tried … I went all in for the yellow but in the end, when I crashed, I lost a bit of motivation for the final climb – but I still pushed my limits. I’m proud of what I did today,” he said.

Pogacar attacked about six kilometres from the top of the Col de Spandelles but Vingegaard followed, barely getting out of the saddle in a stunning show of power and control.

Second-placed South African rider Louis Meintjes of Intermarché Wanty Gobert after the 12th stage of the Tour de France 2022 over 165.1km from Briancon to Alpe d’Huez, France, 14 July 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Marco Bertorello)

Whizzed past 

The Slovenian went for it again four more times on that climb with Vingegaard always covering, and the duo whizzed past Geraint Thomas, who had gone solo earlier.

The 2018 champion again limited the damage, taking fourth place, 2:54 off the pace to all but ensure he would finish on the podium in Paris.

The Ineos-Grenadiers rider is eight minutes behind Vingegaard, but holds a comfortable 3:05 lead over fourth-placed David Gaudu.

Unable to drop Vingegaard on the climb to the Col de Spandelles (10.3km at 8.3%) Pogacar took big risks in the descent. 

In his slipstream, Vingegaard lost his balance on a bend, just managing to stay on the bike. A few turns further down the road, it was Pogacar who skidded off into the gravel on a left-hand turn, sustaining bruises in the process.

Vingegaard slowed down and shook hands with Pogacar as both finished the descent in a more cautious fashion, allowing a five-man group led by Thomas to bridge the gap in Argeles Gazost, where French president Emmanuel Macron climbed into the car of race director Christian Prudhomme. 

On the final climb (13.6km at 7.8%), Vingegaard’s teammate, Sepp Kuss, set a blinding pace to drop Thomas.

Vingegaard, Kuss and Pogacar caught Van Aert and Dani Martinez, the last survivors of the day’s breakaway and shortly afterwards, the yellow jersey holder made his move as his main rival was losing contact.

Vingegaard completed a resounding victory and Van Aert, who had attacked from the start, secured third place on the day.

The 18th stage of the Tour de France 2022 over 143.2km from Lourdes to Hautacam, France, 21 July 2022. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Guillaume Horcajuelo)

Phenomenal Van Aert 

Van Aert will win the green jersey for the points classification if he reaches Paris on Sunday, while Vingegaard will also seal the polka-dot jersey for the mountain classification.

While Pogacar won the last two editions of the Tour de France mainly through his individual talent, his likely successor, Vingegaard, has relied on a formidable team and the jaw-dropping performances of Van Aert.

Vingegaard won the 18th stage after extraordinary demolition work by Van Aert.

The 27-year-old Belgian, initially a cyclocross and one-day race specialist, jumped away from the peloton from the gun before setting a devilish pace on the final climb after being caught by his leader Vingegaard and Pogacar.

He then took an astonishing turn on the steepest part of the ascent and his pace was too furious even for Pogacar, who lost contact and saw Vingegaard disappear up the road.

The Slovenian picked himself up to go past Van Aert, but the Belgian still managed to finish third, a year after claiming a stunning win on the Mont Ventoux at the end of an epic breakaway.

“To have Wout van Aert, the best rider in the world, as a helper, is incredible,” said Vingegaard, who also paid tribute to his other teammates.

Sepp Kuss has been instrumental on key mountain stages and 2020 runner-up Primoz Roglic sacrificed his own chances in a memorable tactical move that ended up with Pogacar cracking on the Col du Granon in the Alps.

“The Col du Granon stage and today are two really good examples of how strong this team is,” said Vingegaard.

“I think everyone is so incredibly strong and I’m so happy I have such a team around me. They were all incredibly strong today so I have to thank them so many times.”

Jumbo-Visma were down from eight to six when Roglic and Steven Kruijswijk abandoned on Sunday, but sports director Frans Maassen was not too worried.

“Two guys less, but we have Wout, who counts for three,” he said.

Such is Van Aert’s talent that many wonder whether he can gun for the overall title in future.

“Wout is of course one of the best riders in the world on all terrains. But I don’t think he has ambitions for the general classification,” said Vingegaard.

“But if he does, we can share the leadership. I shared the leadership this year with Primoz and I think in the end it’s actually better to have two leaders.”

South Africa’s Louis Meintjes had a strong day, moving up to sixth overall. DM/Reuters

Summaries:

Stage 18 Lourdes to Hautacam, 143.2 km. 

Stage winners:

  1. Jonas Vingegaard (DEN) Jumbo – Visma 3:59:50
  2. Tadej Pogacar (SLO) UAE Team Emirates +1:04
  3. Wout van Aert (BEL) Jumbo – Visma +2:10
  4. Geraint Thomas (GBR) INEOS Grenadiers +2:54
  5. David Gaudu (FRA) Groupama – FDJ +2:58
  6. Alexey Lutsenko (KAZ) Astana – Qazaqstan Team +3:09
  7. Daniel Martínez (COL) INEOS Grenadiers – same time
  8. Sepp Kuss (USA) Jumbo – Visma +3:27
  9. Aleksandr Vlasov () BORA – hansgrohe +4:04
  10. Thibaut Pinot (FRA) Groupama – FDJ +4:09
  11. Louis Meintjes (RSA) Intermarché Wanty – same time 

Overall leaders:

  1. Jonas Vingegaard 71:53:34
  2. Tadej Pogacar +3:26
  3. Geraint Thomas +8:00
  4. David Gaudu +11:05
  5. Nairo Quintana (COL) Team Arkéa – Samsic +13:35
  6. Louis Meintjes +13:43
  7. Aleksandr Vlasov +14:10
  8. Romain Bardet (FRA) Team DSM +16:11
  9. Alexey Lutsenko +20:09
  10. Adam Yates (GBR) INEOS Grenadiers +20:17
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