Canada’s Michael Woods secures big win at top of famed Tour de France mountain
PUY DE DOME, France (AP) — On the same mountain where five-time Tour de France champion Jacques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor wrote themselves into race history 59 years earlier, all eyes Sunday were on Jonas Vingegaard and Tadej Pogacar’s continued rivalry at cycling’s biggest race.
Neither Vingegaard nor Pogacar finished first at the summit of the Puy de Dome after Canadian Michael Woods delivered an impressive solo effort to claim the biggest success of his career.
But the fierce rivals, riding well behind the day’s breakaway they had allowed to form, were again in the spotlight.
The two have been in a fierce duel since the start in Bilbao, Spain, of this year’s pulsating Tour and will certainly enjoy Monday’s first rest day.
Vingegaard, the defending champion from Denmark after he dethroned Pogacar last year, had the upper hand in the first round of their battle in altitude. His Slovenian rival responded in style to regain time in the next two mountain stages.
With two weeks of racing remaining, only 17 seconds separate the two in the general classification, with Vingegaard wearing the yellow jersey.
Jai Hindley is in third place, 2 minutes, 40 seconds off the pace.
Vingegaard and Pogacar’s confrontation Sunday on the steepest part of the climb up to the Puy de Dome was not as dramatic as the duel between Anquetil and Poulidor back in 1964, when the two French rivals engaged in a “mano a mano” for the ages.
But amid silence reigning in the thin air — the road leading up to the top of the mountain is so narrow that fans had not been allowed access — the two teamed up for another epic moment, again in a class of their own, with Pogacar in the role of the attacker.
After another great collective effort from Vingegaard’s Jumbo-Visma teammates in the final ramp that destroyed the field, Pogacar launched his attack with 1.5 kilometers left and accelerated again on the steepest gradients. Vingegaard lost ground but did not panic and managed to limit the deficit to eight seconds to retain the yellow jersey.
“It’s not a victory, but it’s a small victory, so I’m super happy today,” said Pogacar, a two-time Tour champion.
Pogacar was the strongest rider up the 13.3-kilometer ascent, with a speed of 23.7 kph (14.7 mph), considerably faster than Woods’ winning average of 19.8 kph (12.3 mph).
Vingegaard admitted Pogacar’s superiority on the day, but insisted the profile of the Alpine stages still to come better suit his style.
“It would have been nicer to gain than lose time on Tadej Pogacar, but as I said before, I came to the Tour knowing that the first week suited me less than what’s to come, so to be in the yellow jersey at the end of the first week satisfies me,” he said.
Woods, who rides for the Israel-Premier Tech team, has no ambition in the general classification and was part of the early breakaway that formed early. He managed to catch American Matteo Jorgenson just 500 meters from the summit after his rival jumped away from the leading group with less than 50 kilometers left.
Woods then dropped Jorgenson at ease and reached the summit of the Puy de Dome, a volcanic crater in the Massif Central region of south-central France that last hosted a stage 35 years ago.
“I’m 36 years old, turning 37 this year, I’m not getting any younger,” said Woods, who also owns two stage wins at the Spanish Vuelta. “To win a Tour de France stage was my ultimate goal and I could see the window closing.”
Frenchman Pierre Latour finished the 182.5-kilometer (113-mile) stage in second place, with Matej Mohoric of Slovenia completing the podium. Jorgenson ended up fourth.
The ninth stage started in Saint-Leonard-de-Noblat, where Poulidor, the grandfather of one-day race specialist Mathieu van der Poel, lived much of his life.
Visibly emotional, van der Poel attended a small ceremony honoring his grandfather before the start. The Dutch rider’s team Alpecin-Deceuninck also paid a tribute to Poulidor, with van der Poel competing on a customized bike decorated with images of Poulidor and Anquetil.
A group of 14 experienced riders managed to break away soon after the start of the race. On the hilly roads of the Limousin region, the peloton first kept them on a tight leash. They were finally given permission to move away, and they built a lead of more than 16 minutes.
There were a lot of attacks in the break, and Jorgenson managed to go clear with 47 kilometers remaining. The young American kept on pushing hard on the roads leading to the foot of the last climb and opened a one-minute gap, but it didn’t last.
“I just started to feel empty with 1 kilometer to go, and then before I knew it, Mike was there and passing me and it was a surprise but there was absolutely nothing I could do,” Jorgenson said.
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