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The UAE Team Emirates star tried in vain for three days in a row across the French Pyrénées to shake the stubborn Dane, yet following a dramatic crash on the final descent in the three-climb stage 18, it was Pogačar who was gapped by Vingegaard.
“I wasn’t thinking about the stage win, I was thinking about the yellow jersey,” Pogačar said after crossing the line second. “In the end, I gave it all on the second to last climb and crashed on the downhill, and I gave it all on the last climb, and second place was the best for me. I think I did all I could and I can be proud of the result.”
- Vingegaard drops Pogačar to win on Hautacam
- Vingegaard waits for Pogačar after crash
- Jumbo-Visma defends green-yellow ambitions
The two-time defending champion was down to just three teammates after COVID-19 and injuries depleted the UAE Team Emirates ranks in the closing week of the Tour.
After cracking on the Col du Granon last week in the Alps to cede yellow, Pogačar lived up to his promise to attack across the Pyrénées.
Out-gunned by Jumbo-Visma on the Hautacam, Pogačar couldn’t respond when Vingegaard punched the accelerator to win his second stage of this Tour.
“There couldn’t be a better way to lose the Tour de France than this,” Pogačar said. “I gave it all today thinking of the GC. I will leave the race with no regrets.
“Jumbo-Visma has been perfect in this Tour de France. Chapeau to them, as they have been really strong every day. As for today, the best man won,” he said graciously. “Jonas [Vingegaard] was stronger than me. I already gave it all on the second-to-last climb, but I feel I still had something left for an attack on the final climb.
“Unfortunately, I crashed, and the crash took its toll from me. I tried to follow the Jumbo-Visma guys all the way to the summit, but they were too strong.”
After winning Wednesday’s stage, an indefatigable Pogačar unleashed a series of searing attacks on the day’s second climb at the Cat. 1 Col de Spandelles only to crash after sweeping off the asphalt on a left-hander on the descent.
Vingegaard waited for him in a sporting gesture, and Pogačar was out-numbered on the final climb up Hautacam with Wout van Aert and Sepp Kuss pacing the yellow jersey to the upper reaches of the HC summit.
“I don’t know, but for sure it’s not nice to crash,” Pogačar said. “I was pushing it and I crashed, so it was my fault and nothing else. In the end, Jonas was really, really strong on the final climb.
“I have nothing but respect to Jonas Vingegaard. I think we respect each other a lot,” he said. “When he decided to wait for me after my crash, he was on a good position to do it as he had teammates all over the road. It was fine for him to wait. It’s me who wanted to go fast on the descent, but I pushed it too far and crashed – can’t blame anyone for that.”
A dejected Pogačar gave up another 1:04 to Vingegaard to remain in second, now 3:26 back with three stages to go.
“I think a little bit yes,” he said when asked if his depleted UAE team cost him. “But I think Jonas was the strongest and even if I had eight teammates it would be hard, but we could have more chances through the last week.”
— @UAE-TeamEmirates (@TeamEmiratesUAE) July 21, 2022
So is the Tour lost?
Pogačar couldn’t resist. There are still three stages to race, including a transition stage Friday, a time trial Saturday, and Sunday’s parade into Paris.
“I guess yes, but there is still one stage to attack and to try to win,” Pogačar said. “And I will give it all and Paris is still three days.”
Once a racer, always a racer.