Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) made a big step towards overall victory at the 2021 Tour de France after taking the win on the stage 17 summit finish to Col du Portet.
The yellow jersey attacked with over 8km to the top of the climb, taking Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) and Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) with him, but beat them both in a final effort for the line at the 2,215m summit.
Vingegaard was able to take second on the stage, slightly gapping Carapaz in third to move into second and third overall respectively.
Rigoberto Urán (EF Education-Nippo), who started second overall at the start of the day, slips to fourth overall at 1-34 to third place after getting dropped following Pogačar's second attack. The Colombian faces a tough task in overhauling Carapaz or Vingegaard for a podium spot before Paris.
How it happened
Stage 17 of the 2021 Tour de France looked to be perhaps the toughest of the race, with three tough climbs backloaded into the final 65km of the 178.4km route from Muret to the summit of the monstrous Col du Portet at 2,215m.
The hors categorie Col du Portet, at 16km with an average gradient of 8.6 per cent, would provide the climax of the stage and one of the final launch pads for anyone to try and dethrone Tadej Pogačar from his comfortable lead at the top of the general classification.
Before that however, the riders would face a flat run into the Tour-regular Col de Peyresourde (13.2km at seven per cent), and then the Col de Val Louron-Azet (7.4km at 8.3 per cent); both category one climbs.
A fight for the break ensued after the flag drop 10km outside of Muret, despite the profile not ideal in allowing a large break to go clear.
Deceuninck-Quick-Step were particularly diligent in policing who made it into the breakaway, not wanting anyone prominent in the green jersey competition to break clear and take valuable points at the intermediate sprint around 100km into the stage.
After some tussling between the French riders to make it into the breakaway on Bastille Day, six men were eventually able to form a coalition up the road and gain a maximum advantage nearing nine minutes.
Those six, Lukas Pöstlberger (Bora-Hansgrohe), Anthony Perez (Cofidis), Dorian Godon (Ag2r-Citroën), Anthony Turgis (TotalEnergies), Danny van Poppel (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux), and Maxime Chevalier (B&B Hotels p/b KTM), would make it to the slopes of the Col de Peyresourde in tact and with an advantage of around eight minutes.
They lost one man, Van Poppel, before the summit of the climb, while they also ceded half of their advantage as they carried four minutes on the yellow jersey group over the summit with 49.4km to go.
That cut in advantage was entirely due to the pace-setting of UAE Team Emirates, who appeared to be preparing Pogačar for potential mountain top stage win in the yellow jersey.
On the next climb, the Col de Val Louron-Azet, the breakaway was just four men, with Pöstlberger immediately letting go of Perez, Godon, and Turgis on the early slopes.
By the top of the Val Louron-Azet, Perez was riding solo but still had a respectable advantage of 3-52 on the peloton as he began the descent. He was eventually joined by his compatriot Godon on the downhill, with the peloton unable to cut their deficit to the leading duo by the foot of the Col du Portet with 16.1km remaining.
At this point the leading Frenchmen must have allowed themselves to dream of the win of a lifetime at the top of the summit finish on their national day, beginning the climb with a headstart of four minutes.
But the pace of UAE Team Emirates was relentless, and Godon was unable to hold the effort out front 3km into the climb, leaving Perez to battle on all alone.
Ineos began to help with making the pace heading into the final 11km, the time up to Perez now down to 1-38 as the Cofidis man displayed a face of pain for the cameras on the steep slopes.
Rafał Majka, last man in support of Pogačar, ramped up the speed heading through 9km to go, and it was clear this was the build-up to the decisive attack by the yellow jersey.
With 8.4km to go, Pogačar made his move, instantly catching Perez and dropping him out the back. With that attack the race leader took many of the other key contenders with him, including Jonas Vingegaard, Richard Carapaz, Rigoberto Urán, Ben O’Connor (Ag2r Citroën Team), and Carapaz’s final domestique Jonathan Castroviejo.
That was a group too big for Pogačar, who made a second attack just 300m later, then dropping O’Connor and Castroviejo. Urán was able to follow for longer, but had to succumb to the relentless pace with 7.5km to the summit.
That left a trio of Pogačar, Vingegaard, and Carapaz out front, with the Ineos rider refusing to help the other two in the pace-setting.
Pogačar, visibly frustrated with Carapaz’s lack of work, tried to usher him through but the Ecuadorian refused and continued to simply follow.
Numerous surges in pace from Pogačar failed to dislodge Carapaz, including another strong effort from the Slovenian with 2.1km to go to try and solo to the stage victory. Just 700m later though Carapaz ended his bluff and attacked, dropping Vingegaard who had to fight to keep the other two in sight.
At this point Pogačar simply followed Carapaz, waiting to be dragged into the final few hundred metres and beat him to the line. That meant a slight slowing in pace however, allowing Vingegaard to return to them with less than 200m to go.
Neither Vingegaard nor Carapaz could prevent the yellow jersey from powering away from them within the final 100m to claim the stage victory, with Vingegaard getting closest at three seconds behind, Carapaz a further second behind the Dane.
With time bonuses on the line and just one second between them at the start of the day, Vingegaard now moves up to second and increases his lead over Carapaz in third to four seconds.
Pogačar also increases his lead after Urán failed to stick with him, and now looks set to ride to his second consecutive overall victory at the Tour de France.
There’s another summit finish to tackle first however, with a short 129.7km stage in the Pyrenees on Thursday’s stage 18 finishing atop Luz Ardiden after climbing the Col du Tourmalet beforehand.
Tour de France 2021, stage 17: Muret to Saint-Lary-Soulan Col du Portet (178.4km)
1. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, in 5-03-31
2. Jonas Vingegaard (Den) Jumbo-Visma, at 3s
3. Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Ineos Grenadiers, at 4s
4. David Gaudu (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, at 1-19
5. Ben O'Connor (Aus) Ag2r Citroën Team, at 1-26
6. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 1-40
7. Pello Bilbao (Esp) Bahrain Victorious, at 1-44
8. Sergio Higuita (Col) EF Education-Nippo, at 1-49
9. Rigoberto Urán (Col) EF Education-Nippo,
10. Dylan Teuns (Bel) Bahrain Victorious, all at same time
General classification after stage 17
1. Tadej Pogačar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates, in 71-26-27
2. Jonas Vingegaard (Den) Jumbo-Visma, at 5-39
3. Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Ineos Grenadiers, at 5-43
4. Rigoberto Urán (Col) EF Education-Nippo, at 7-17
5. Ben O'Connor (Aus) Ag2r Citroën Team, at 7-34
6. Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 8-06
7. Enric Mas (Esp) Movistar, at 9-48
8. Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz) Astana-Premier Tech, at 10-04
9. Guillaume Martin (Fra) Cofidis, at 11-51
10. Pello Bilbao (Esp) Bahrain Victorious, at 12-32
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