Jonas Vingegaard has thrown everything at Tadej Pogacar to win an epic 11th stage of the Tour de France and replace the defending champion as the overall leader after a gruelling Alpine trek.
Last year’s runner-up Vingegaard attacked 4.9km from the finish to drop Pogacar, who had been attacked relentlessly by the Dane’s Jumbo-Visma team all day long on Wednesday and eventually cracked.
Pogacar held off his rivals on the Col du Telegraphe, where the offensive began 90km from the line, and the lung-busting Col du Galibier, even winking at the cameras before the final ascent, a dreaded 11.3-km climb at 9.2 per cent to the Col du Granon.
But Vingegaard’s brutal acceleration wiped the smile off the Slovenian’s face and Pogacar suddenly opened his jersey to get some air before seeing Geraint Thomas, David Gaudu and Adam Yates ride past him in the finale of a memorable 151.7km ride from Albertville.
Pogacar, who started 39 seconds ahead of Vingegaard in the standings, crossed the line seventh, two minutes 51 seconds behind the winner, his face a mask of exhaustion.
Overall, Vingegaard leads Bardet by 2:16 and third-placed Pogacar by 2:22.
Vingegaard reaped the rewards of his earlier attacks and those of teammate Primoz Roglic, who sacrificed his own chances in a risk-it-all strategy by the Jumbo Visma outfit in perhaps the best Tour stage this century.
After his attack, Vingegaard never looked back, overtaking Frenchman Warren Barguil, the last survivor of the day’s breakaway, and Colombian Nairo Quintana, who had gone solo earlier from the group of favourites.
Quintana took second place, 59 seconds behind, with France’s Romain Bardet finishing third, 1:10 off the pace.
“The team were fantastic, especially Primoz. He showed how generous he is. He’s such a great rider. Winning a tour stage and wearing the yellow jersey is what I’ve always dreamed off,” said Vingegaard.
“Tadej is probably the best rider in the world. Taking the yellow jersey from him is incredible. He will do everything he can to reclaim it and I’ll do everything to keep it.
“In the last three kilometres I was on the limit, I just wanted it to end. It was brutal, brutal.”
Pogacar vowed to fight on ahead of another brutal day in the Alps with the 12th stage taking a worn-out peloton from Briancon to the iconic Alpe d’Huez, going through the Col du Galibier at 2,642 metres before an endless ascent to the Col de la Croix de Fer.
“I first felt good in the Galibier. I came under attack and they harassed me,” the 23-year-old Pogacar, whose team has been weakened after two UAE Emirates riders pulled out of the race with COVID-19, said.
“The whole Jumbo team were super strong and they were just stronger. Suddenly in the Granon I didn’t feel good. It was not my day but I’ll continue to fight,” said Pogacar.
“Today was a bad day but starting tomorrow I’ll be on the attack again. It’s going to be nice to watch.”
The Ineos-Grenadiers team limited the damage, with Thomas taking fourth place and Yates finishing sixth on the day.
Thomas, the 2018 champion, is fourth, four seconds behind Pogacar, and Yates lies sixth, 40 seconds behind his teammate.
Amid the carnage in the mountains with riders suffering huge time deficits, Team BikeExchange-Jayco’s Nick Schultz, who finished some 27 minutes behind in 51st place, still leads the Australian challenge, now lying 35th overall.