LA PLANCHE DES BELLES FILLES, France (AP) — Tadej Pogačar won his second Tour de France stage in a row in the first summit finish of the race to extend his lead in the yellow jersey on Friday.
Pogačar caught, first, Lennard Kämna, who came agonizingly close to a breakaway win, and then Jonas Vingegaard with one last sprint at the top of La Planche des Belles Filles, a ski resort in the Vosges mountains of eastern France.
“It was really, really difficult, especially in the end, the last part. When Jonas attacked, he was so strong,” Pogačar said. “I had to push to the finish line.”
Pogačar started the day with a four-second lead over Neilson Powless and ended it with a 35-second advantage over Vingegaard. “A little bit is always good, but still, we know in cycling no gap is enough,” was the verdict of Pogačar, who praised Vingegaard as “probably the best climber in the world” at the moment.
Geraint Thomas, the 2018 Tour winner, sat third, 1 minute, 10 seconds back, and his Ineos Grenadiers teammate Adam Yates was 8 seconds further behind.
American rider Powless, Alexander Vlasov and Daniel Martinez were among the general classification contenders who lost time.
Kämna, who rode to a stunning stage win in the Alps in 2020, was part of a seven-man breakaway heading into the mountains and clung on to the lead solo for almost all of the last three kilometers. He placed fourth behind Pogačar, Vingegaard and Primož Roglič.
The mountain hits a 24% gradient near the top and the last section is on gravel, making it one of the Tour’s most fearsome climbs. The mountain was the site of Pogačar’s breakout moment on the 2020 Tour, when he took the yellow jersey from fellow Slovenian Roglič on the penultimate stage and went on to win the race. Pogačar won the Tour again in 2021.
He said he dreamed of winning at La Planche des Belles Filles ever since finding out it would be part of this year’s Tour.
“It was in my mind already a really, really long time, maybe since the route was already discovered. It was a big, big goal to win today,” Pogačar said.
It’s the second time Pogačar has taken back-to-back stages after victory in stages 17 and 18 in the Pyrenees last year.