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Pogačar was left with just three teammates, only one of which is a climber, after his squad lost Marc Soler and Rafał Majka overnight — with Soler missing yesterday’s time cut and Majka picking up an injury. However, the team put in some monster turns with Mikkel Bjerg and Brandon McNulty to explode the GC group on the Hourquette d’Ancizan and the Col de Val Louron-Azet.
Thomas felt the strain of the pace set by Bjerg and was eventually cracked by McNulty on the penultimate climb of the day.
“I didn’t really expect that, especially from Bjerg. He put in a hell of a shift for the rider he is. He was cracking me actually that he was hurting me so much on a climb. Fair play to them, they really took it on. Chapeau to Pogačar,” Thomas said at the finish.
- Tadej Pogačar wins stage 17 but fails in GC challenge to rattle Jonas Vinegaard
- Geraint Thomas praises contract-hunting Adam Yates for Tour de France sacrifice
- Tadej Pogačar pips Jonas Vingegaard but cannot crack him
Throughout this Tour de France, Thomas has maintained a cool head when Pogačar and, yellow jersey wearer, Jonas Vingegaard have gone up the road on the mountains. The Welshman has opted to ride at his own pace when the duo has attacked, and he did the same when he started losing ground on the Col de Val Louron-Azet.
Unlike previous days, Thomas was unable to regain contact with Pogačar and Vingegaard but limited his losses in the overall classification. Though he lost 2:07 on the stage, Thomas extended the cushion behind him for the final podium spot, and he now leads Nairo Quintana by nearly three minutes with just one mountain stage to come.
“I felt alright, but I didn’t feel as light on the pedals as I have done earlier in the race. I just wasn’t feeling tip top today, but I was there,” he said. “Going up that second last climb, I started to ride my own pace because I didn’t want to go fully into the red. I thought I could hold the gap if I went full-on really deep, but the decision was made to wait for [Romain] Bardet and the other group behind. I didn’t want to risk blowing completely on this last climb. I think all in all it was a decent day. In the end, I got dropped by those two, but they’re another level.”
It was a less good day for Adam Yates, who was dropped with almost 30 kilometers still to ride and gave away nearly nine minutes to the Pogačar and Vingegaard. It saw him slip three places in the overall standings to ninth.
Yates was coughing — behind his hand — as he spoke to reporters at the finish line and said the race was all about survival for him now, as well as helping Thomas in the GC.
“Firstly, I’m a bit sick, the last few days I’ve been trying to get through as best as possible but today it caught up to me. I was just trying to help Geraint,” Yates said. Yesterday, I tried to pace the steep climb for Geraint but I’m just hanging on at the moment. I’m going to try and help Geraint as much as possible and then hopefully get better for Paris.
“A couple of guys had [the illness] at the beginning of the race, Dani [Martinez] and [Jonathan Castroviejo]. We’ve tried to stay healthy but this season’s not my year. I keep getting sick and that’s how it is. It’s sport and if you’re missing one percent then you’re not going to be up there. We’ll see what happens in the next race.”