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Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) may have taken the win on stage 17 of the Tour de France, and snatched a few bonus seconds off race leader Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo Visma), but the Slovenian was unable to truly dent his rival’s lead in the overall standings.
The pair once more demonstrated their clear superiority over the rest of the field, dropping all their main rivals on the penultimate climb of the Col de Val Louron-Azet and then riding together to the finish paced by Pogačar’s teammate Brandon McNulty.
Pogačar took the victory, his third stage win of the race, but his deficit to Vingegaard remains at 2:18 with just two more days to conceivably crack the Dane.
UAE Team Emirates blew the race apart on the Hourquette d’Ancizan with Mikkel Bjerg setting a furious pace with over 50km to go. His efforts ripped the yellow jersey group to shreds with Thomas Pidcock, Neilson Powless, Simon Yates, and Enric Mas among the early casualties.
Bjerg was still in place on the Col de Val Louron-Azet with 29km to go, and this time his work dropped a host of super domestiques including Wout van Aert and Tiesj Benoot.
Yates and Powless had returned by the foot of the climb but they too were distanced almost immediately once McNulty took over from Bjerg.
As soon as the American hit the front the remaining GC riders lined out with David Gaudu (Groupama FDJ) slipping out the back alongside Mas with 27km to go.
Aleksandr Vlasov soon followed out the back door before the front of the race only included Pogacar, McNulty, Vingegaard, Sep Kuss, Geraint Thomas and Nairo Quintana.
With 26km to go Quintana was distanced with Kuss following suit less than two kilometers later. Thomas didn’t fare much better, unable to hold McNulty’s pace, and leaving just three riders at the front with the summit of the Col de Val Louron-Azet still a long way off.
Thomas and Romain Bardet regrouped alongside Alexey Lutsenko ahead of the final climb to Peyragudes with the British rider eventually dropping his companions with 4km to go.
Pogacar and Vinegaard finished on the same time, with McNulty third and Thomas fourth at 2:07 to strengthen his grip on third place in the overall standings. Lutsenko and Bardet came over the line around 30 seconds later with Gaudu at 3:27. Vlasov finished at 3:32, alongside Louis Meintjes and Quintana.
Yates, who told reporters he’s been sick the past few days, would eventually finish almost nine minutes down, with Pidcock losing 22 minutes.
In the overall standings, Vinegaard leads Pogacar by 2:18 with just one final stage in the mountains and the time trial on stage 20 to come.
Thomas is at 4:56 but almost certain to take third in Paris. Bardet came back from a terrible day on stage 16 to climb three places to sixth, while Quintana and Gaudu are fourth and fifth separated by just four seconds.
Despite his time losses, Yates holds a top-10 with ninth, while Pidcock dropped from 10th to 15th.