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Jonas Vingegaard celebrates on the podium wearing the yellow jersey after winning stage 18 of the Tour de France in France, July 21 2022. Picture: GONZALO FUENTES/REUTERS
Jonas Vingegaard celebrates on the podium wearing the yellow jersey after winning stage 18 of the Tour de France in France, July 21 2022. Picture: GONZALO FUENTES/REUTERS

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

Vingegaard went solo about 4km from the finish at Hautacam after some intensive work from his Jumbo-Visma teammates, Pogacar slowly disappearing from his rear-view mirror and crossing the line in second, 1min 4sec behind.

He 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, and the kitchen sink, 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 climbing effort 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 by the organisers in 2007, only for the International Cycling Union (UCI) to add it again a year later after ruling that the offence was prescribed.

Pogacar attacked about 6km from the top of the Col de Spandelles but Vingegaard followed, barely getting out of the saddle in a spine-chilling show of power and control.

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 make sure he would finish on the podium in Paris.

The Ineos-Grenadiers rider is 8min 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 all the 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 however who skidded off into the gravel on a left-hand turn, sustaining a few bruises in the process.

Vingegaard slowed down and called a truce, shaking 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 he day's breakaway and shortly afterwards, the yellow jersey holder made his move as his main rival was losing contact.

Vingegaard stuck the knife in for a resounding victory to which Van Aert, who had attacked from the gun, added third place on the day.

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. Reuters

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