Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) saved his final blast for the closing 100 metres and won his third stage of this year’s Tour de France at the summit of Peyragudes. Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) could not match the acceleration and finished on his adversary’s wheel for second.
Pogačar’s teammate Brandon McNulty took third on stage 17. His searing pace ripped the peloton to shreds after the penultimate climb of Val Louron-Azet.
The Pyrenean showdown came down to the UAE Team Emirates duo versus Jumbo-Visma’s GC leader. The only hesitation from Vingegaard came in the sprint to the line, as he could not move around his rival. Vingegaard held tight to his race lead and only lost a few seconds to his main challenger, Pogačar now 2:18 back.
Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) held his composure on stage 17, finishing fourth, and held to third overall, now 4:56 behind the leader.
Romain Bardet (Team DSM) looked to suffer on the climb but managed to trail only four seconds behind fifth-placed Alexey Lutsenko (Astana Qazaqstan) on the summit finish, and with his ride, Bardet moved from ninth on GC to sixth overall, 9:21 back. Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic) and David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) finished the stage in the top 10 to retain fourth and fifth, respectively, on GC. Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers) slipped three spots in the overall standings, now ninth, and teammate Tom Pidcock plummeted from the top 10.
After the leaders crossed the finish line, more than 125 riders were strewn across the 11km climb of the fourth mountain of the day, looking to beat the time limit of approximately 37 minutes from Pogačar's winning time.
"To take the stage win is already incredible. We can all be proud because without Rafal, George and Soler we cannot try more," Pogačar said at the finish about riding with only three teammates on stage 17. "For now I'm happy that I won today. Tomorrow is another day which I'm looking forward to.
"I gave really absolutely everything. I know that I need to win, there's no other way. I gave it all for the team to the line. I was so happy. Not only Brandon, also Mikkel and Hirschi. Mikkel rode like a climber today. He set such a good pace on the climbs, it was unbelievable. I felt so good with that pace, I felt confident and I know he felt confident also. Brandon did an amazing job, he was so good today - he's been good all Tour but a special mention goes to him."
How it unfolded
It was a compact day in the Pyrenees for stage 17 that began in Saint-Gaudens, with four categorised climbs across 129.7 kilometres.
Two more riders did not take the start today, reducing the number who started the Grand Tour even further from 176 to 144. UAE Team Emirates did not start Rafa Majka, who sustained a thigh strain injury on stage 16 when his chain snapped. That left two-time Tour champion Pogačar with only three teammates - Mikkel Bjerg, Marc Hirschi and McNulty. Another rider out of the Tour from the start was Tim Wellens (Lotto Soudal), who departed after mild symptoms and a positive for COVID-19.
The first 53 kilometres were flat roads in the Haute-Garonne, on the plain between Pau and Toulouse, before the first-category Col d'Aspin. Michael Woods (Israel-Premier Tech), who was third on stage 16, surged off the front immediately, and then Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) gave it a go. Multiple attacks followed in the opening kilometres, but no gaps developed
Jumbo-Visma kept riders near the front as the only intermediate sprint of the day loomed ahead in La Barthe-de-Neste before the road tilted skyward, and the team looked to help Wout van Aert seal his lead in the green points jersey competition.
With 14km before the sprint, Dylan van Baarle (Ineos Grenadiers) and Connor Swift (Arkéa-Samsic) attacked but a gap of 20 seconds was short lived. Once they were reeled back, Van Aert was part of a swell of eight riders with eyes set on 1km to go to the intermediate sprint. Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) took the maximum 20 points just ahead of Van Aert, who added another 17 points and sealed the green jersey competition.
Now with 15km remaining before the 12km climb of the Col d’Aspin, the attacks kept coming. Guillaume Boivin (Israel-Premier Tech) and Owain Doull (EF Education-EasyPost) were the first to go, but only Doull kept the pace high. This allowed Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) to strike out. He was joined in the attack by Alexey Lutsenko (Astana Qazaqstan) and the duo formed the first serious breakaway.
Behind, a group of about 15 riders took up the pace for the chase, sending more riders to the back of what was a peloton than off the front. In the mix were Simon Geschke (Cofidis), wearing the polka dot jersey, and Guilio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo), who were set to battle for KOM points, but it was Pinot who took top points as the first to crest the summit of Col d’Aspin.
After the first climb, with 65km to go, Pinot and Lutsenko had 1:15 on the reduced peloton, with two groups chasing in between. One of the GC favourites, sixth-placed Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers), began to fade. UAE Team Emirates rode at the front of the peloton and pushed the pace on the approach to the second-category Hourquette d'Ancizan.
Pinot and Lutsenko continued to lead the way on the irregular 8.2km climb of the Hourquette d'Ancizan, which began with 4km at 7.5%. Behind, Geschke had a mechanical problem, so was not part of the sprint with Ciccone for third place KOM points.
On the fast 10km descent on the narrow Pyrenean roads headed to the formidable Col de Val Louron-Azet, the chase group was 30 seconds down on the lead duo, and were set for the catch. The chasers included Jonathan Castroviejo and Dylan van Baarle (Ineos Grenadiers), Patrick Konrad (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Gregor Mühlberger (Movistar), Pierre-Luc Perichon and Simon Geschke (Cofidis), Dylan Teuns (Bahrain Victorious), Romain Bardet, Chris Hamilton and Andreas Leknessund (Team DSM), Georg Zimmermann (Intermarché-Wanty Gobert), Rigoberto Urán (EF Education-EasyPost), Quinn Simmons and Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo), Chris Juul Jensen (BikeExchange-Jayco), Pierre Latour (TotalEnergies), Bob Jungels (Ag2r-Citröen).
Pinot and Lutsenko were absorbed by the chasers at the start of the long ascent, 10.7km, of the Col de Val Louron-Azet to create a formidable pack. The polka dot jersey group rode 33 seconds back and the yellow jersey group was 1:15 back, with 28km to go.
The first-category climb of Val Louron-Azet only dipped below 7.1% once proving to be perfect feeding ground for explosive moves and faded hopes. Bjerg of UAE Team Emirates and Van Aert of Jumbo were soon suffering on the climb, which reduced the arsenal for a Vingegaard vs Pogačar showdown.
McNulty set a searing pace across the gradients of 8 and 9% and the yellow jersey group would become the lead group, with riders going backwards. Pinot began to lower his pace, or so it seemed with the high tempo created by McNulty and company. Pinot would fade from the lead, then Bardet and Lutsenko, with Bardet going straight off the back.
Motoring up the mountain was McNulty, Pogačar, Vingegaard and Thomas, and with 3km to go Thomas could no longer stay in touch. The Ineos rider was soon rolling backwards, while the surging trio then caught the only rider who had remained out front, Leknessund.
Pogačar jumped from behind McNulty’s wheel to hit the front across the top of the Val Louron-Azet. The trio regrouped on the start of the descent, with McNulty back in the lead, Vingegaard clinging to Pogačar’s wheel with under 18km to go. The closest chasers had a little more than a minute to make up, that group including Thomas, Lutsenko and Kuss. Just behind the trio of chasers were a Team DSM tandem of Bardet and Leknessund, who merged on the descent but were 1:15 in arrears of the leaders.
Once off the descent, a 5km flat section provided the launching pad for the first-category climb to the finish in Peyragudes at the altiport, McNulty motoring at the front for the best young rider with the yellow jersey in tow.
Leknessund was the first of the chasers to drop back, and with 7.2km to go Bardet went in the other direction, his acceleration matched by Thomas. Bardet turned around and asked Thomas to help work in the chase. Lutsenko kept them in sight but could not hold on. Another minute and a half back and approaching the final climb was a pack that included Quintana, Gaudu and Meintjes. Yates was nowhere in sight.
The volume of the roadside spectators increased as the pitch of the road increased as the final 3km was underway. The lead trio progressively added time to their gap over each kilometre, stretching the gap to 1:34 on Thomas and Bardet, 1:44 on the Gaudu group and 3:14 to what remained of the peloton.
On the opening of the last 1,000 metres, the hardest at 13% with a brief section reaching 16%, McNulty remained stoic. Pogačar was the first to accelerate and held for the stage win, never able to shake Vingegaard off his wheel. The extra work done by the American, earning him the most combative award.
The broom wagon just caught Fabio Jakobsen (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) as he passed the finishing line to cheering crowds - he had just 18 seconds to spare. On to another day of climbing.
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