Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) claimed his second straight stage victory of the Tour de France, edging out Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) atop the Super Planche des Belles Filles to extend his overall lead.
Pogačar's teammates whittled down the yellow jersey group on the first mountain stage of the race, and Pogačar himself forced the issue on the steep gravel tracks at the very top of the 7km, 8.7% climb in the Vosges.
However, he was surprised by a late attack from Vingegaard, who zipped past the final breakaway survivor, Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe) an agonising 100 metres from the line. Pogačar was initially gapped by the rider now considered his biggest threat, but he remarkably found a final acceleration to nudge past Vingegaard just before the line.
Vingegaard's teammate, Primož Roglič, whose overall hopes took a severe blow on the cobbles on Wednesday, was the best of the rest, taking the final spot on the day's podium, 12 seconds down.
Kämna held on for fourth place, crossing the line a couple of seconds further back alongside Geraint Thomas, who emerged as the best of the Ineos Grenadiers leadership trio on their first big test of the race. Adam Yates and Dani Martínez made the initial selection but suffered on the steep upper slopes, with Yates finishing ninth at 29 seconds from Pogačar, and Martínez 11th at 45 seconds.
The most significant development from a general classification perspective, however, was the time loss suffered by Aleksandr Vlasov. Considered a dark horse for the podium, the Bora-Hansgrohe leader was dropped more than 3km from the summit and ended up losing 1:39.
Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost), second overall at the start of the day, started to struggle around the same time and, despite hanging in gamely, eventually lost more than a minute. Ben O'Connor (AG2R Citroën) was dropped even earlier and after losing time on the cobbles, saw any GC hopes go definitively up in flames.
David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ), Romain Bardet (DSM) and Enric Mas (Movistar) produced good rides to finish in the top 10 and limit the damage to Pogačar to around 20 seconds, while Rigoberto Urán (EF), Nairo Quintana (Arkéa-Samsic), and Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) finished around the 45-second mark.
After the dust at the top of the Planche settled, Pogačar extend his overall lead, thanks to the 10 bonus seconds, to 35 seconds, with Vingegaard now his closest challenger in second. Thomas is third at 1:10, eight seconds up on Yates, while the French duo of Gaudu and Bardet lie at around 90 seconds.
"It was really difficult, especially in the end in the last part when Jonas attacked, he was so strong," Pogačar said.
"But my boys were working all day and I had to push to the finish line. It was a special day."
How it unfolded
The peloton rolled out of Tomblaine under blue skies, and the first summit finish stage of the Tour de France started out with 100km of largely flat terrain. The opening phase saw a protracted battle for the breakaway, with no one managing to get any leeway, despite the best efforts of Bora-Hansgrohe, Trek-Segafredo, and Bahrain Victorious.
After 40km, there was finally a breakthrough, or at least the start of one. Cofidis' Simon Geschke went solo, and when he looked around, he couldn't believe his luck: world time trial champion Filippo Ganna (Ineos) was coming across. The pair combined to gain 20 seconds on the peloton but Ganna's team told him to sit up and he gave Geschke an apologetic pat on the back before drifting back to the bunch.
As he did, though, a new group succeeded in going clear, making their way over to Geschke to form a breakaway of 11 riders. With 50km down and 126km to go, the peloton finally started to ease up.
In the move were: Geschke, Schachmann and his teammate Lennard Kämna, the Trek-Segafredo duo of Giulio Ciccone and Mads Pedersen, plus Dylan Teuns (Bahrain Victorious), Vegard Stake Laengen (UAE Team Emirates), Kasper Asgreen (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl), Imanol Erviti (Movistar), Luke Durbridge (BikeExchange-Jayco), and Cyril Barthe (B&B Hotels KTM),
Despite the lull, several teams who missed the move fired up the action again briefly. Magnus Cort (EF-EasyPost) and Michael Woods (Israel-Premier Tech) went clear but could not close the gap, while riders from AG2R and Intermaché launched more futile moves. When the gap went over a minute, it was impossible to close, and that was that.
However, the breakaway didn't just sail into the distance. They gained just over two minutes but then Pogačar's UAE teammates came to the fore to control the gap, clearly wanting another stage win for the Slovenian. After a while, they called Stake Laengen back to help chase down the move he was originally a part of, and the gap was pegged at two minutes.
The intermediate sprint came with 75km to go, and Pedersen helped himself to the maximum haul of points, before green jersey Wout Van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) beat Fabio Jakobsen (QuickStep-AlphaVinyl) to the remaining scraps from the peloton.
The day's first climb came soon after the sprint and there was immediate action in the escape on the category-3 Col de la Grosse Pierre (3.1km at 6.4%). Kämna accelerated, Schachmann in his wheel, and they split the breakaway, with only Durbridge following initially. Ciccone shot out the back then Pedersen followed, Trek's day imploding. Geschke and Teuns dragged their way back but Asgreen, Barthe and Erviti were also dropped for good.
Geschke attacked for the two mountain points at the top of the climb before Erviti and Barthe came back on the other side. The whittled-down breakaway used their new impetus to take their lead out to three minutes by the second minor climb, the Col des Croix - 3.2km at 6.3% - where Geschke again took maximum points.
From there, it was a 30km build-up to the final climb, with the gap steadily falling as GC teams started to get organised in the final 20km. Erviti was dropped as the breakaway hit the climb with a lead of 1:30 over a peloton led by Ineos and Ganna.
La Super Planche des Belles Filles
In the breakaway, Schachmann's work was soon done and he left Kämna to it on the lower slopes. Barthe also quickly fell away before Geschke launched the first attack. When Teuns and Kämna kicked to go after him, Durbridge started to drop. 500 metres later, Kämna kicked viciously away from Teuns and breezed over to Geschke. The difference in speed was remarkable and it was no surprise when Kämna, after a brief spell in the slipstream, kicked again to go clear at the head of the race 5km from the summit.
Back in the bunch, UAE took over from Ineos on the lower slopes, through Brandon McNulty. The likes of Wout van Aert and Mathieu van der Poel were quickly dropped and it wasn't long before some more surprising damage. Ben O'Connor (AG2R Citroën), who already lost time on the cobbled stage, lost contact 5km from the top, along with local hero Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) and Jakob Fuglsang (Israel-Premier Tech).
McNulty then pulled aside and handed over to George Bennett, and the damage intensified. Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe), a dark horse for the podium, saw his GC bid start to unravel, and Neilson Powless (EF), second overall, dangled off the back. When Bennett pulled over with 2.5km to go, it was over to Pogačar's last man, Rafal Majka, leading a bunch down to 20 riders, 45 seconds behind Kämna.
Kämna enjoyed a slight plateau with 2km to go before the climb kicked up again ahead of the final steep haul on the gravel. He hit the gravel with 800 metres to go, as Majka gave his last effort the front of the yellow jersey group. Pogačar then burst out of the saddle and immediately opened a gap onto the gravel, but it was closed by Vingegaard. Pogačar was happy to lead the group that had been whittled down to 12.
Pogačar then ramped up the pace and started to really split the group, with only Vingegaard, Roglič, and Thomas able to follow. They were already tracking down Kämna when Vingegaard kicked with 200 metres to go. Pogačar looked to be straining as a gap opened up, but he produced a final surge as Vingegaard started to fade, with even 30 metres ample distance for a turnaround on gradients so steep.
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