Jonas Wingegaard with victory in the Pyrenees in addition to the Tour de France clinches

Thadej Pogacar’s last chance to position himself to win a third consecutive Tour de France came Thursday on the steep slopes of Hautakmi in the Pyrenees mountains.

Pogacar attacked the leader, Jonas Wingegaard, on the final climb, but Wingegaard fought back. Now they were climbing the last big mountain of the tour. With only a largely flat stage and a time trial ahead of Sunday’s traditional holiday ride in Paris, Pogacar knew Thursday’s stage offered his last, best shot at shaving the gap between 2 minutes and 18 seconds. He and Wingegard.

But his final attack never came. Instead, Hautacam broke Pogacar. With two-and-a-half miles to go, he slipped quietly behind Wingegaard and his Jumbo-Visma teammate, Watt van Aert, who was trailing him. After a while, Van Aert stepped aside and Wingegaard, wearing the race leader’s yellow jersey, climbed to the top of the mountain alone.

Rather than see Pogacar with his lead, Wingegaard extended it, winning the stage by 1:04 and almost certainly taking the Tour title. After factoring in a few bonus seconds, he now leads Pogacar by 3:26 overall, his first Tour win as a 25-year-old.

“I was just happy it was finally over,” Wingegaard said of Thursday’s final mountain stage, 21 days after racing in the 18th round. “It was incredibly difficult, but of course I was really, really happy to win the stage.”

There were two dramatic moments on the descent before the big climb, with Pogacar looking for an opening and Wingegard, watching his every move, going downhill in unison. First Wingguard, Negotiating a Gravel Road, He shook and almost fellOne foot came off the pedal to keep balance.

A minute later, Pogacar did indeed fall, but he immediately got back on his bike, apparently none the worse for wear. Wingegard slowed to catch up, a display of sportsmanship acknowledged by a handshake between rivals as Pogacar caught up with him again.

“I think he kind of missed the corner and went into the gravel,” Wingegaard said of Pogacar. “And then he tried to pull it out and the bike disappeared under him. Then I waited for him.”

Pogacar came into the Tour as favourite, his two consecutive wins giving the Slovenian rider an aura of invincibility. He duly took the race lead this year, but lost it in the Alps when Wingegard attacked Colonel du Granon. Wingegaard held on to the lead on the historic slopes of L’Alpe d’Huez, leaving Pogaccar little time to overtake him.

Barring a crash, illness or other misfortune in the final days of the race, Wingegaard, the Daniel, should have no trouble on Friday’s flat stage, Saturday’s time trial and a celebratory cruise down the Champs-Élysées in Paris. .

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