The Washington Post

Pogacar wins stage but is still second

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peyragudes, france — Tadej Pogacar claimed a third stage win as he sprinted away from Jonas Vingegaard in the punishing last climb of a grueling trek in the Pyrenees on Wednesday but failed to take significan­t time out of the Tour de France leader.

As so often in this year’s race, the pair were in a class of their own and were left fighting each other in the brutal final kilometer up to Peyragudes airstrip at the end of the 130-kilometer (80.8-mile) stage.

Once Pogacar’s teammate Brandon Mcnulty — who paced his leader throughout the day through punishing ascents with an impressive effort of pure dedication — got dropped, it was time for a final showdown in high altitude.

In the steep ramp leading to the finish, Pogacar accelerate­d with about 300 meters left. Vingegaard countered with ease, but the two-time defending champion had the final say with a final kick that helped him surge ahead and cross first, with Vingegaard on his wheel.

With just one big mountain stage left and an individual time trial before the race reaches Paris on Sunday, Vingegaard looks set for his first Tour de France win. But Pogacar still believes. “I’m optimistic that I can still win the Tour,” the 23-year-old Slovenian said. “Tomorrow is a harder stage, so we can try again.”

Since his bad day in the Alps when he relinquish­ed the yellow jersey to Vingegaard, Pogacar has been on the attack but has not managed to make up the time he lost to his rival.

The Uae-emirates team also has been forced to cope with many withdrawal­s. On Wednesday, Rafal Majka pulled out of the race just before the stage start because of a thigh injury. Pogacar already had seen his support unit reduced to four riders following the earlier withdrawal­s of George Bennett, Vegard Stake Laengen and Marc Soler as the team dealt with a coronaviru­s outbreak.

“The way the team rode today with only four riders, just to take the stage win is already incredible,” Pogacar said. “We can all be proud of what we have done. Without Rafal, George, Vegard and Soler, we couldn’t try more. We’ll see tomorrow if there is another chance.”

Pogacar will have one last chance to unsettle the JumboVisma team leader in the mountains during Thursday’s grueling final Pyrenean stage between Lourdes and Hautacam.

After that, his last occasion to turn the race upside down will be Saturday’s time trial, a discipline in which he has the upper hand on paper.

Pogacar’s three stage wins this year took his career tally to nine.

With the time bonus awarded to the stage winner, Pogacar moved four seconds closer to Vingegaard, who now has an overall lead of 2 minutes 18 seconds in the general classifica­tion. Geraint Thomas, the 2018 Tour champion, was dropped in the penultimat­e climb and lagged 4:56 behind in third place overall.

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