Carlos Rodriguez moved up to third overall after taking a maiden Tour de France stage win as Tadej Pogacar was left to rue a “wasted bullet” in his bid to wrest the yellow jersey from Jonas Vingegaard.
At the end of a dramatic 152km stage 14 to Morzine that began with an almost half-hour delay following a huge crash in the peloton, Rodriguez descended off the Joux Plane to take a second consecutive win for the Ineos Grenadiers while Vingegaard and Pogacar battled it out behind.
There was controversy at the top of the climb, where Pogacar tried to beat Vingegaard to vital bonus seconds only to find his path blocked by a motorbike as he accelerated, leaving question marks over the crowd management on the mountain.
That allowed the Dane to gain three seconds there, although Pogacar took two of them back on the finish line. Vingegaard’s lead in the yellow jersey is now 10 seconds as these two very different riders, head and shoulders above the rest, remain evenly matched.
Pogacar had attacked a little under four kilometres from the top of the mountain, which crested 12 kilometres from the finish, initially distancing the defending champion but never by more than 20 metres.
Vingegaard kept his cool, pacing his way back still with 1,700 metres to the summit. The Slovenian attacked again with 500 metres left, but had not noticed two motorbikes struggling to part the huge crowds and was forced to knock it back, allowing Vingegaard to regain the advantage.
“It was one wasted bullet after already doing the big climb to do one sprint for nothing,” Pogacar said. “It’s a bit of a shame but I don’t think it will change the outcome. OK, I messed it up a little bit but it is what it is.”
As the pair eyed each other Rodriguez, having lost around a minute when Pogacar put in his first acceleration, paced his way back on and then rode by to go clear on the descent.
“It’s incredible,” the Tour debutant said. “I have no words. Being here was a dream and getting a victory is incredible in the best race in the world. It was always something I focused on and to achieve now a victory I’m super happy…
“It was also a goal to gain some time and we accomplished it so I’m very happy on that side. I have to be happy and enjoy this victory but also think and recover a little bit for tomorrow as that is going to be a big day also.”
Jai Hindley started the day in third but was one of dozens of riders caught in the early crash just after the start in Annemasse, and was dropped five kilometres from the top of the final climb.
The Australian came in one minute 46 seconds after Rodriguez, losing third place to the 22-year-old Spaniard by one second.
But it was not all good news for the Ineos Grenadiers, with Tom Pidcock – also caught in that crash – distanced on the penultimate climb and slipping out of the top 10 overall.
Adam Yates is up to fifth after sticking with team-mate Pogacar, but his twin brother Simon dropped to seventh after also losing contact on the penultimate climb.
Seven riders did not finish – Britain’s Tour debutant James Shaw and French darling Romain Bardet were caught in a second incident after the big crash that would force Esteban Chaves, Louis Meintjes and others from the race.
Vingegaard’s Jumbo-Visma team bossed the peloton from the moment the race resumed, their relentless pace soon defeating the day’s breakaway as the group of favourites was mercilessly whittled down.
“We wanted to make the race hard,” Vingegaard said. “I want to thank my team today. They’ve been amazing. In the end I only get one second but it’s good.”