Tadej Pogačar "felt pure joy" as he moved one step closer to defending his Tour de France title on stage 17 atop the Col du Portet.
The UAE Team Emirates rider went clear with Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) and Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) in the final 10km of the relentlessly steep finishing climb, and beat Vingegaard in a sprint to the line by three seconds.
In winning his second stage of the race, he increased his overall lead to 5-39 with just one mountain stage remaining.
Although Pogačar quipped that the final ascent was "a never-ending story", he revealed that the experience of winning his fifth Tour stage at just the age of 22 was an enjoyable one.
"Sometimes when I suffer I have an expression on my face that I am smiling," he said afterwards. "Maybe the camera focused on me today when I passed my girlfriend and my family at 5km to go, and that was the moment when I felt pure joy. Today I was really enjoying the race.
"[The climb] was a never-ending story: you start and then in the small village [midway up the climb] it's already been super-long and you keep going up the dead[-end] road for 8km. It never finishes, it's super hard, you're in high altitude, but I felt really good.
"It was a good climb, a nice test, and I enjoyed this climb even though it was one of the hardest in this Tour."
Has he all-but sealed yellow? "The Tour is over on the Champs-Élysèes on the finish line," he said, sounding like every other previous leader of the race.
"Because cycling can have a lot of bad luck. You never know what can happen. I touch wood, touch my head, but for now I consider my shape and I feel good. I can't wait for tomorrow."
The final trio ascended the Pyrenean mountain as one, but Carapaz refused to do any work on the front, staying in the wheels of Pogačar and Vingegaard before attacking in the final kilometre. His stint out front ultimately proved fruitless, beaten into third.
It had looked as if the Ineos Grenadiers rider was keeping pace, but his move demonstrated it was all a bluff. Pogačar didn't feel the move was disrespectful though.
"I was expecting everything," he said. "That's why I was more or less setting the pace. You need to be careful every time because with three guys everyone wants to win and drop each other.
"Everyone plays their own tactic. I was expecting something like this [Carapaz's attack]. Why not? I don't see a problem with people attacking.
"It's a bike race. Everyone has a chance to attack and of course they will grab [those opportunities]."
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