Emotional Vingegaard edges Pogacar in Tour de France battle

Tadej Pogacar in yellow takes the day's winner Jonas Vingegaard's hand (Anne-Christine POUJOULAT)
Tadej Pogacar in yellow takes the day's winner Jonas Vingegaard's hand (Anne-Christine POUJOULAT)

Jonas Vingegaard edged overall leader Tadej Pogacar as a battle between the four Tour de France favourites played out over a series of hills in the central Cantal region on Wednesday.

Defending champion Vingegaard reeled in Slovenian Pogacar's ferocious attacks before a razor's edge final dash to the line.

Belgian Remco Evenepoel finished third at 25sec while Pogacar's compatriot Primoz Roglic was fourth at 55sec despite a late accident.

Race officials later accorded Roglic the same time as Evenepoel.

In the overall yellow jersey standings, Pogacar leads Evenepoel by 1min 06sec, Vingegaard is in third place at 1min 14sec, and Roglic is fourth at 2min 15sec.

Pogacar, 25, would normally be a faster sprinter than Vingegaard, but sportingly reached out a hand to his rival at the end of their struggle after a 211km ride.

Vingegaard, 27, cried after coming off from his bike, as the spindly-framed rider proved he had overcome life-threatening injuries in March at the Tour of the Basque Country.

"I called my wife, she's been a big part of me coming back. I'm deeply moved by this win," Vingegaard said.

"It's only a few months ago my loved ones feared I was going to die.

"I never thought I'd be back at this level. I had many doubts about myself," he added.

While the stage win went to Vingegaard, his tactics also may have won him a moral victory in the struggle between the pair of two-time Tour winners.

- Pyrenees promise -

Pogacar refused to accept that however with two mountainous stages on the agenda for this weekend in southern France.

"OK he won the sprint, I won the first climb and he caught me on the second. I have a lead in the rankings so no," he said.

"Let's see what happens on the bigger climbs in the Pyrenees.

"I'm really confident," he added.

The gathering war of attrition between Visma-Lease a Bike's Vingegaard and his challengers reached a crescendo as it climbed to the remote ski station of Le Lioran, located at an altitude of 1,242m.

Surprisingly it left the top four positions unchanged however.

"We can now confirm that Jonas is on good form. He beat me," Pogacar said.

"And I was feeling good," he added.

This was Vingegaard's first stage win on this year's Tour and above all proof he has overcome his injuries from earlier in the year.

For Pogacar it is back to the drawing board after his bold, but foiled attempts to distance his rivals on a handful of testing climbs to the west of the city of Clermont.

The 2020 and 2021 champion Pogacar had opened up a 30sec lead over Vingegaard on the penultimate climb and dropped Evenepoel altogether before he also rallied.

Pogacar was unable to maintain his infernal pace as he looked over his shoulder in horror as Vingegaard once more appeared on his back wheel.

Vingegaard spent most of the 2023 Tour sitting just behind Pogacar during the race, before pulverising him on stage 16 and 17 in the Alps to win by 7min 29sec.

Pogacar did however take the king of the mountains climbers' points jersey.

Frenchman Romain Bardet, who grew up in the region, was greeted by a throng of ardent supporters on what was billed as 'Virage Bardet' (Bardet corner) where thousands of locals and backers bid him farewell on his final Tour de France.

He came second on the 2016 Tour de France and finished in the same position at the world championships two years later.

"It was a magnificent day, I didn't think it would be so intense," Bardet told France Televisions.

"The atmosphere was amazing, I did everything to be in front, but it didn't work out," the 33-year-old added.