COURCHEVEL, France-- Jonas Vingegaard took a giant stride towards a second consecutive Tour de France title when crash-hit rival Tadej Pogacar cracked in unexpected and spectacular fashion on Wednesday's 17 stage, the toughest of the race.
A day after crushing Pogacar in the individual time trial, Vingegaard went solo some five kilometres from the top of the Col de la Loze (28.1km at 6%) and did not look back despite being slowed down by an organisers' car and a race motorbike. He could not catch stage winner Felix Gall of Austria, who attacked from the breakaway 6.4km from the top to move up to eighth overall, but his fourth place at the end of the 165.7-km trek from Saint Gervais was more than enough for Vingegaard to prepare to celebrate in Paris on Sunday. What was a 10-second gap two days ago is now an unbridgeable 7:35 gap after Pogacar, who crashed early in the stage and suffered a cut on his knee, huffed and puffed over the line more than five minutes behind Jumbo-Visma leader Vingegaard. The Dane has devoured his main rival, sending him into an abyss of doubt after beating him two years in a row, delivering brutal blows when it mattered most. "I'm relieved to have more than seven minutes but we're not in Paris yet, there's some tricky stages left, still," said Vingegaard.
He again faced questions about trust in cycling, a sport that has been marred by doping scandals in the past. "I understand it's hard to trust in cycling but I think everyone is different than 20 years ago and I can tell from my heart that I don't take anything I would not give my daughter and I would not give her any drugs," Vingegaard told a news conference. As Pogacar reached the top of the brutal hill where the finish line was drawn, he might have seen Vingegaard's domestique Tiesj Benoot clenching his fist in celebration. The 2020 and 2021 Tour winner suffered a spectacular failure 8.5km from the summit of the Col de la Loze, as, with his white jersey zipped wide open, he struggled to hold the wheel of UAE Emirates team mate Marc Soler. "It was the day, when the route was announced, that we said was going to be our day, the day when we wanted to put the Tour upside down and make it really hard," Jumbo-Visma sports director Griescha Niermann told reporters.
"That did happen, although we did not think it would happen this way. Jonas won the Tour today, I think, barring bad luck." Bad luck could have struck on the Col de la Loze, when a race motorbike stalled amid massive crowds, forcing an organisers' car to come to a halt and another race motorbike to go on the side of the road. Vingegaard slowed down and zig-zagged through to continue his demolition work until the line, which he crossed with a big smile on his face. "We were blocked by motorbikes, they were almost falling on us," France's Thibaut Pinot, 12th overall, said. "Some motorbikes probably stalled. Also why do they let cars pass us when the gap between the groups of riders is just 15 seconds?" Vingegaard, however, was unperturbed. "There were a lot of vehicles so we had to stand still for a moment. And then we went on," he said.