Tadej Pogačar showed his complete dominance yet again at the Tour de France 2021 as he stormed to victory on stage 18, taking his third victory of the race.
The UAE Team Emirates leader didn't need to call on his team to do much work at all as Ineos Grenadiers paced the bunch for their leader, Richard Carapaz, on the final climb to Luz Ardiden.
Pogačar attacked the main group with just over 3km left to the finish, taking third place Carapaz, second place Jonas Vingegaard and his Jumbo-Visma team-mate Sepp Kuss, as well as Enric Mas (Movistar), with him.
It wasn't until Mas attacked within the final kilometre that the yellow jersey made his decisive move, riding back to the Spaniard before powering past him to go clear. There was nothing Vingegaard or Carapaz could do but try and lose as little ground as possible to Pogačar, who rode comfortably to his second successive summit finish victory and surely seals the overall with it.
Pogačar also goes into the mountains classification lead as he took the 40 points available for winning the stage, leaving Wout Poels (Bahrain Victorious) in second place with just two points remaining in the rest of the Tour.
The biggest loser in the top-10 on GC was Rigoberto Urán (EF-Nippo) who slipped dramatically down the general classification dropping to 10th in GC at 16-25 after losing 8-58 to Pogačar.
How it happened
The 18th stage of the Tour de France started in Pau and would see the peloton battle up the Col du Tourmalet (17.1km at 7.3 per cent), before heading to the final mountain of this year’s race on Luz Ardiden (13.3km at 7.4 per cent) over a distance of 129.7km.
An early break did eventually form with Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck - Quick-Step), Matej Mohorič (Bahrain Victorious), Chris Juul-Jensen (BikeExchange), and Pierre-Luc Perichón (Cofidis) getting away.
Juul-Jensen dropped back on the second category four climb of the day to help his team as they attempted to drop Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck - Quick-Step) but the Manxman managed to hold on and beat all of his rivals at the intermediate sprint with team-mate Michael Mørkøv coming in just behind him and ahead of BikeExchange’s Michael Matthews. This all came behind the three leaders who continued their escape up the road.
The peloton hit the Tourmalet with all sorts of riders trying to bridge across to the leaders. Perichón was dropped by Mohorič and Alapahilippe. Groupama-FDJ duo of Valentin Madouas and David Gaudu bridged across along with Ruben Guerreiro (EF-Nippo), Pierre Latour (TotalEnergies), and Omar Fraile (Astana-Premier Tech).
Michael Woods (Israel Start-Up Nation) tried to battle Wout Poels (Bahrain Victorious) in the challenge for the mountains jersey at the top of the climb, but Poels was far stronger and dropped his Canadian rival in the final kilometre.
Gaudu went over the top with just Latour but was able to drop his compatriot on the descent. Latour then quickly lost time and was reeled in by the peloton which chased lone leader Gaudu down the descent of the Tourmalet.
With 11km to go Ineos Grenadiers had full control of the main bunch on Luz Ardiden with just 19 seconds to Gaudu up the road. The British team had four riders in front of their leader, Richard Carapaz.
Gaudu was caught with 9.5km to go by the Michał Kwiatkowski (Ineos Grenadiers) led peloton. Tao Geoghegan Hart then took over from his Polish team-mate with about 8km to go and he continued his huge effort until 5.5km to go when Rafał Majka moved up with Tadej Pogačar for UAE Team Emirates.
Pogačar was the first to attack as he searched for his third stage win. Carapaz followed well but so did the Jumbo-Visma duo of Jonas Vingegaard and Sepp Kuss with Movistar’s Enric Mas there too with 3km to go.
Mas was the first to try something as Kuss was dropped. Pogačar dragged Carapaz and Vingegaard up to Mas before the Spaniard tried again and this time did take a gap. But once again, Pogacar kicked hard and passed Mas. He gapped the rest and continued to go clear with 500 metres to go.
He took the stage taking his lead to just 15 seconds under six minutes ahead of Vingegaard and Carapaz in the GC.
Stage 19 is back to the flatter conditions and a potential day for the sprinters with Cavendish getting his first chance of a possible two to go for the all-time record of Tour de France stage wins.
It's a 207km stage between Mourenx to Libourne. That being said, it isn't absolutely certain it will be a sprint though. A breakaway could go or even the peloton could be broken up by riders like Matthews and Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Victorious).
Tour de France 2021, stage 18: Pau to Luz Ardiden (129.7km)
1. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, in 3-33-45
2. Jonas Vingegaard (Den) Jumbo-Visma, at 2 seconds
3. Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Ineos Grenadiers, at same time
4. Enric Mas (Esp) Movistar Team, at 13s
5. Daniel Martin (Ire) Israel Start-Up Nation, at 24s
6. Sepp Kuss (USA) Jumbo-Visma, at 30s
7. Sergio Higuita (Col) EF Education-Nippo, at 33s
8. Ben O'Connor (Aus) Ag2r Citroën Team, at 34s
9. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Bora-Hansgrohe, at same time
10. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar Team, at 40s
General classification after stage 18
1. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, in 75-00-02
2. Jonas Vingegaard (Den) Jumbo-Visma, at 5-45
3. Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Ineos Grenadiers, at 5-51
4. Ben O'Connor (Aus) Ag2r Citroën Team, at 8-18
5. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 8-50
6. Enric Mas (Esp) Movistar Team, at 10-11
7. Alexey Lusenko (Kaz) Astana-Premier Tech, at 11-22
8. Guillaume Martin (Fra) Cofidis, at 12-46
9. Pello Bilbao (Esp) Bahrain Victorious, at 13-48
10. David Gaudu (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at 18-42
Tim Bonville-Ginn is one of Cycling Weekly's content writers for the web team responsible for writing stories on racing, tech, updating evergreen pages as well as the weekly email newsletter.
Bonville-Ginn started working in cycling journalism while still at school and university for a voluntary site based on Twitter before also doing slots for Eurosport's online web team and has been on location at the Tour de Yorkshire, Tour of Britain, UCI World Championships and various track events. He then joined the Cycling Weekly team in late February of 2020.
When not writing stories for the site, Bonville-Ginn doesn't really switch off his cycling side as he watches every race that is televised as well as being a rider himself and a regular user of the game Pro Cycling Manager.
He rides a Specialized Tarmac SL4 when out on his local roads back in West Yorkshire as well as in northern Hampshire with the hills and mountains being his preferred terrain.
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