Cycling-Pogacar retains Tour lead as O’Connor wins stage

By Julien Pretot

TIGNES, France (Reuters) – Defending champion Tadej Pogacar kept a close eye on his opponents as he retained the Tour de France leader’s yellow jersey after the ninth stage, a 144.9km mountain hike at the departure from Cluses in the Northern Alps on Sunday.

Australian Ben O’Connor of the AG2R-Citroën team won the breakaway stage, ahead of Italians Matteo Cataneo and Sonny Colbrelli.

Slovenian Pogacar, who won the yellow jersey on Saturday, was in command all day and responded to a late attack from Ecuador Richard Carapaz, his main rival for the overall standings, in the final climb to the alpine resort of Tignes (21km at 5.6%) to stay at the top of the ranking.

With his first stage victory on the Tour, O’Connor climbed to second place in the overall standings, two minutes and one second from the pace, with Colombian Rigoberto Uran in third, 5:18 behind Pogacar.

After a crash-strewn start to the tour, last year’s runner-up Primoz Roglic retired from the race, failing to recover from injuries sustained in a fall in stage three. An exhausted Mathieu van der Poel, who wore the yellow jersey during the week, also resigned ahead of his attempt to win Olympic gold in the mountain bike event.

The Belgian Wout van Aert, who started the day in second place in the general classification, cracked on the Col du Pré, halfway through the stage, and finished more than half an hour behind O ‘ Connor as he dropped out of the race.

His Jumbo-Visma team, which had been lined up to help two-time Vuelta champion Roglic win the title, will now ride for Norwegian Jonas Vingegaard, who is fourth overall and 5:32 behind Pogacar, a second short. advance on Carapaz.

O’Connor, 25, started solo with 17.5 km to go and in the last 10 km, Ineos Grenadiers increased the pace in the group of favorites to set up the attack on Carapaz.

Carapaz started four kilometers from the end, but the 2019 Giro d’Italia champion was blocked by Pogacar, who ultimately finished 32 seconds ahead of the Ecuadorian.

“I finally made a small attack to keep things under control,” Pogacar said at a press conference.

“They (the Ineos Grenadier team from Caparaz) made it a bit more difficult but I had good legs to counterattack.

“Yesterday was one of the best days of my career and I was more in survival mode today, even though I was in good shape.”

Monday is the first day of rest for the race.

Frenchman Arnaud Demare, who was aiming for victory in the Tour sprints, finished the day out of time, which means he is out of the race.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Ed Osmond)

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