The 109th Tour de France came alive on an epic day in the Alps as Tadej Pogacar cracked and Jonas Vingegaard rode his way into the yellow jersey.
Vingegaard’s Jumbo-Visma squad worked to isolate and weaken Pogacar on a punishing 11th stage from Albertville that took in the climbs of the Telegraphe and Galibier before a summit finish on the Col du Granon, and they got their rewards as Pogacar lost almost three minutes.
The Slovenian had looked supreme up to this point in the race, threatening to make a third straight title a procession, and could be seen smiling and gesturing for the cameras as they approached the foot of the Granon, having seemingly dealt with the worst rivals could throw at him on the Galibier.
But less than 10 kilometres later it had all changed – with Pogacar left fighting his way up the double-digit gradients in agony as others rode away.
Vingegaard took second to Pogacar in last year’s Tour, having been thrust into a leadership role after team-mate Primoz Roglic crashed out.
The Dane came to this year’s race as a protected rider before another crash for Roglic elevated him to Jumbo-Visma’s ‘Plan A’, and the 25-year-old is certainly riding like a man worthy of the role.
“I think it’s really incredible,” he said. “It’s hard for me to put words on this. This is what I dreamt of always. A stage in the Tour and now the yellow jersey.
“We made a plan from the start of the day and I guess you could see what the plan was. We made it a super hard race.”
This was only the second time the Granon had appeared in the Tour, though its place in the race’s history was assured as this was where Greg LeMond took yellow from Frenchman Bernard Hinault in 1986 – the five-time winner never wore it again.
This stage too will take its place in the annals as Jumbo-Visma executed a tactical masterclass and Pogacar fell apart in a way not previously seen in the brief but brilliant career of the 23-year-old.
The fireworks were lit early with Roglic serving as the bait – launching attacks on the Telegraphe to test Pogacar’s Covid-hit UAE Team Emirates squad.
By the foot of the Galibier, Pogacar was left isolated alongside Vingegaard and Roglic with only Thomas able to keep up from the main group of favourites. The Jumbo-Visma pair took it in turns to launch attacks, forcing Pogacar to respond while Thomas rode tempo to keep himself in touch.
Things regrouped on the long descent off the back of the Galibier and it appeared normal service had been resumed as Rafal Majka paced Pogacar up the early inclines. But when Vingegaard attacked once again Pogacar had no answer as one by one rivals rode away.
Nairo Quintana took second on the day, but Romain Bardet was the other big winner as his third place moved him up to second overall, two minutes 16 seconds down.
Thomas came in fourth on the stage and now sits fourth overall, four seconds behind Pogacar with a deficit of two minutes and 26 to yellow.
Thursday will see the peloton head back over the Galibier before tackling the Col de la Croix de Fer and a finish on Alpe d’Huez, where it will be seen whether or not this was one bad day for Pogacar or a sign of things to come.
“I got attacked by Jumbo-Visma, they played it well today,” he said. “Tactically they did a really good job. In the last climb, it was difficult. But we will see tomorrow, I want revenge. Le Tour is not over.”
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