Tour de France: Tadej Pogacar on the verge of retaining his title with an 18th stage victory

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The Slovenian Tadej Pogacar, wearing the yellow jersey of the leader of the general classification, and the Danish Jonas Vingegaard, wearing the white best young jersey, at the end of the 18th stage of the Tour de France on Thursday.
Image Credit: AP

Luz Ardiden, France: Tadej Pogacar claimed another historic 18th stage victory to move closer to his Tour de France title as a cloud of doping suspicion loomed over the world’s biggest cycling race on Thursday.

Before the start of the stage, the French public prosecutor’s office announced that it had opened a preliminary investigation into the Bahrain Victorious team after police raided the accommodation and the outfit’s bus on Wednesday.

The Marseille prosecutor’s office specified that the investigation concerned “the acquisition, transport, possession, importation of a substance or method prohibited for the use of an athlete without medical justification”. Bahrain Victorious said they were complying with the investigation.

All the Bahrain Victorious riders took the start of the stage but none of them weighed on the race, having been maintained by the searches until late in the night, the Dutchman Wout Poels falling behind Pogacar in the classification of mountains.

The Slovenian’s brutal acceleration 500 meters from the finish line, at the top of Luz Ardiden (13.3 km at 7.4%), could not be matched by his rivals since the Dane Jonas Vingegaard and the Ecuador’s Richard Carapaz finished two seconds behind second and third respectively.

The result was a carbon copy of Wednesday’s summit finish at Col du Portet, where Pogacar had already beaten Vingegaard and Carapaz in the second of three stage wins on this year’s tour.

“I can’t believe what’s happening to me. Today was a very big step. My legs weren’t 100% and I suffered in the Tourmalet, ”said Pogacar.

“The ascent to Luz Ardiden was also difficult, but I found my rhythm and had enough energy for the final sprint.”

In total, UAE rider Pogacar now has a considerable advantage of five minutes and 45 seconds over Jumbo-Visma’s Vingegaard, with Ineos Grenadiers’ Carapaz in third place overall, six extra seconds behind.

Colombian Rigoberto Uran (EF Education-Nippo), fourth overall at the start, broke down on the penultimate ascent of the Col du Tourmalet to come out of the top 10.

Australian Ben O’Connor of AG2R-Citroën is now fourth, at 8.18am off the pace two days before the last individual time trial on Saturday.

The first forwards Matej Mohoric of Bahrain Victorious and the world champion Julian Alaphilippe were joined in the ascent of the Tourmalet (17.1 km at 7.3%) by a small group made up of the French climber David Gaudu.

Gaudu, whose monster work had prepared Thibaut Pinot for a historic Tourmalet victory in 2019, accelerated and was followed by Alaphilippe, his compatriot Pierre Latour and the Portuguese Ruben Guerreiro.

A cooked Alaphilippe was dropped 3.5 km from the summit, Guerreiro also being left behind two kilometers higher as French President Emmanuel Macron watched from the Tour director’s car.

Gaudu escaped on the descent but he was only 15 seconds ahead of a yellow jersey group led by the Ineos Grenadiers at the foot of the final climb.

He was caught 9.5 km from the line.

Pogacar attacks first, 3.5 km from the summit, with Vingegaard, Carapaz, Spaniard ‘Enric Mas and American Sepp Kuss the only ones to follow.

Kuss signaled before Mas started his sprint 700 meters from the line, only for the 22-year-old Pogacar to overtake him at 500 meters, leaving Vingegaard and Carapaz to fight for second place after Pau’s 129.7 km.

In addition to yellow, Pogacar now holds the white jersey for the best under-25 rider and the polka-dot jersey for the mountain classification.

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