Tadej Pogacar outsprinted Jonas Vingegaard to victory on stage 20 of the Tour de France in Le Markstein, but it was the Dane who could begin celebrating the defence of his title ahead of Sunday’s procession into Paris.
Pogacar proved unable to challenge Vingegaard for yellow in the final week of this race as his hopes evaporated in the Alps, but he made a point on the final mountain test as he beat Vingegaard in a five-man sprint at the end of the 133km stage from Belfort.
Felix Gall snuck ahead of Vingegaard for second place on the day, while Simon Yates and Adam Yates came in fourth and fifth, results that seal third overall for Adam and move Simon up to fourth after an early crash left Carlos Rodriguez bloodied above his left eye.
Vingegaard will carry a lead of seven minutes and 29 seconds on to the Champs-Elysees on Sunday as he celebrates his second Tour crown at the age of 26.
“The second one is really amazing,” the Jumbo-Visma rider said. “Of course there’s the stage tomorrow into Paris and we have to be careful not to do anything stupid, but to take my second victory in the Tour de France I almost can’t believe it.”
The front five finished 33 seconds ahead of Warren Barguil and Thibaut Pinot, who dared to dream that the final mountain stage of his last Tour de France – raced on his home roads – could end in victory when he went clear from a breakaway with 30 kilometres left.
But Pinot was caught on the last climb as Pogacar, Vingegaard and Gall went away before being joined by the Yates twins, with Adam proving the lead-out for Pogacar in the sprint.
“Today I finally feel like myself again,” Pogacar said. “It was just really good from start to finish, to feel good again after many days suffering and to pull it off in the finish I’m just super, super happy.
“Adam did a super job. I was waiting for him to come back…I know him now well, he led me out really good and thanks to him it was a bit easier to prepare for the final, less nervous and I’m super happy the team did such a great job once again.”
Both Yates twins could celebrate their best overall result in the Tour, with Adam improving on his fourth place from 2016.
“For me personally third is the best result I’ve ever had in a Grand Tour so obviously I’m pretty happy,” the UAE Team Emirates rider said. “We’re a little bit disappointed as our goal was to get yellow, but in the end there was only one guy better than us.”
For the first two weeks it was one of the closest Tours in history, but in the space of two days Vingegaard’s 10-second advantage became seven-and-a-half minutes as Pogacar was beaten by the Alps.
There had been questions over the Slovenian’s form before the Tour given his lack of racing since he broke his wrist in April, but Vingegaard’s dominance goes beyond the struggles of others, as shown by the near 11-minute gap to Adam Yates in the overall standings.
He beat Pogacar by 98 seconds in Tuesday’s time trial, but just as notable was the near three minutes between him and team-mate Wout Van Aert in third place. The way Vingegaard rode then away from the other favourites on the Col de la Loze a day later was the mark of a champion.
“It’s been a crazy battle we had over these last three weeks,” Vingegaard added. “I think it’s been a really really nice ray to watch and also for us.
“I appreciate the battle I’ve had with Tadej. It’s been an amazing fight since Bilbao and hopefully we’ll do it again in the future.”