Pogacar Sprints to Victory in Stage 20 of Tour de France
tage 20 of Tour de France 2023 took place in the Vosges and Haut-Rhin regions in Alsace and included no less than six classified climbs and among the vertical challenges chosen by Tour race organizer Amaury Sport Organisation (A.S.O.) were the feared category one Petit Ballon and Col du Platzerwasel climbs. The admirable route of stage 20 took the Tour peloton on a 133.5-kilometer ride from Belfort to Le Markstein Fellering.
The route started with the Ballon d’Alsace (category 2; 11.5 km; 5.2 average incline percentage) followed by the Col de la Croix des Moinats (category 2; 5.2 km; 7% incline) after approximately fifty kilometers. Next on today’s menu was the Col de Grosse Pierre (category 2; 3.2 km; 8% incline).
After 79.4 challenging kilometers the riders would reach the top of the Col de la Schlucht (category 3; 4.3 km; 5.4% incline). A long descent into the valley followed before the riders would hit the exhausting Petit Ballon (category 1; 9.3 km; 8.1% incline) that features incline percentages of up to 10.2 percent. After descending from the mountain, the cyclists would reach the renowned Col du Platzerwasel (category 1; 7.1 km; 8.4% average incline percentage) – the final kilometer of which featured an average incline gradient of 10.4 percent and looked perfect for an uphill attack before the descent into the town of Le Markstein Fellering.
The winner of Tour de France 2023 looked set to be Jumbo-Visma’s Jonas Vingegaard as he had an impressive lead of 07:35 minutes in the general classification before today’s penultimate stage of this year’s tour de France. Nothing was certain, though – and illness or the famous cat across the road could spoil his Tour de France adventure and Paris celebrations.
Second and third place in the general classification were less safe though and second-placed Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) was slightly more than three minutes ahead of teammate Adam Yates in third. Challengers for a spot on the podium in Paris were fourth-placed Carlos Rodriguez (Ineos-Grenadiers) and fifth-ranked Simon Yates (Jayco-Alula; twin brother of Adam Yates). Sixth-placed Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Victorious) and seventh-place Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) were also within three minutes of reaching the podium.
An exciting battle awaited spectators and cycling analysts. Would general classification challengers join long breakaways, did someone have bad legs, was anyone ill, would attacks be launched on the Petit Ballon or would they wait until the final climb of the day – the Col du Platzerwasel? Would Pogacar aim for the stage victory after failing to win this year’s Tour?
Eleven teams had not won a stage in this year’s Tour before today’s stage and teams such as EF Education-EasyPost had rather been riding a Tour de Trance than a Tour de France. Today’s stage 20 was the final chance for the disillusioned teams who did not have a sprinter in their Tour line-up to battle for the stage win in the mass sprint on the Champs Elysees in Paris tomorrow afternoon.
Four riders were within reach of winning the best climber classification and wearing the polka-dot jersey in tomorrow’s finish celebrations on the podium in Paris. Lidl-Trek’s Giulio Ciccone was leading with 88 points. Felix Gall (AG2R-Citroen) had 82 points. Vingegaard had 81 points, while Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) had 58 points.
HOW THE RACE UNFOLDED
Lotto-Dstny were first to hit the attack button at kilometer zero. One Lotto-Dstny rider catapulted two teammates into a fast breakaway. For the third day in a row Victor Campenaerts joined a breakaway at kilometer zero – this time with teammate Jasper de Buyst.
De Buyst was dropped on the Ballon d’Alsace – the first climb of today’s stage 20. Together with Lidl-Trek, Pogacar’s UAE Team Emirates were setting a fast pace. It was rumored UAE Team Emirates wanted to win the stage. UAE’s high speed on the Ballon d’Alsace caused Campenaerts to be caught. EF Education-EasyPost’s Magnus Cort was first to catch him. Cort continued with Mattias Skjelmose (Lidl-Trek) and Dylan Teuns (Israel-PremierTech), but the attack was neutralized by UAE Team Emirates.
As the peloton approached the top of the Ballon d’Alsace, Mads Pedersen worked hard with teammate Skjelmose to launch Giulio Ciccone in the sprint for the Best Climber Classification points. Felix Gall was nowhere to be seen. Neither was Powless, so Ciccone banked the most points. With Powless not taking any points, only Ciccone, Gall or Vingegaard could win the Best Climber Classification.
Neilson Powless attacked immediately after the top. He looked fast and delivered an intense effort. But, alas, he was caught. He remained active at the front, however. The EF team was not giving in.
Soudal-QuickStep’s Frenchman Julian Alaphillipe was eager to win a stage on home turf and attacked again – as he had done in several previous stages. He was joined by others.
Fourth-placed Carlos Rodriguez (Ineos-Grenadiers) crashed with Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma) on the descent. Both riders got back on their bikes, but they were bleeding from their wounds. Blood was running from Rodriguez’ eyebrow and the injury looked serious. What a traumatic shock for the rider who looked set to battle for a podium finish in Paris.
A front group was established featuring Thomas Pidcock (Ineos-Grenadiers), Warren Barguil (Arkea-Samsic), Skjelmose, Ciccone, Ion Izagirre (Cofidis), Krists Neilands (Israel-PremierTech), Powless, and Maxim van Gills (Lotto-Dstny). Multiple attacks were still being launched from behind to join the front.
Bora-Hansgrohe launched a major attack on the Col de la Croix des Moinats. Three Bora riders attacked together with teammate Jai Hindley with a plan of advancing Hindley in the general classification. They were reeled in by the chasing peloton.
From the front group Skjelmose led teammate Ciccone up the final kilometer of the Col de la Croix des Moinats. Ciccone looked set to secure more points for the Best Climber Classification. The plan worked.
Rigoberto Uran attacked briefly for Team EF Education-EasyPost. He was actually still in the race.
With the front group now including only Pidcock, Barguil, Skjelmose, Ciccone, Neilands, and van Gils, Uran managed to join the chase group featuring Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), Chris Harper (Jayco-Alula), Valentin Madouas (Groupama-FDJ), Kevin Vermaerke (DSM) and others.
Pinot bridged the gap to the front group on the Col de Grosse Pierre (category 2; 3.2 km; 8%). Ciccone was first across the top and took the most points for the Best Climber Classification. He had no intention of stopping his successful quest.
While the front six continued their work, a chase group had been established featuring Uran, Kevin Vermaerke (DSM), and Valentin Madouas (Groupama-FDJ). They were six seconds behind. The two front groups merged into one.
With the riders still on the Col de Grosse Pierre, the front group now had an advantage of approximately one minute over the main peloton featuring the general classification favorites. The riders were cooperating well.
Ciccone was first across the Col de Grosse Pierre and thereby secured the points needed to be certain of winning the Best Climber Classification. Mission accomplished for the Lidl-Trek team.
The Tour riders were now approaching the two final climbs of the last mountain stage of this year’s Tour de France – the Petit Ballon (category 1; 9.3 km; 8.1%) and the Col du Platzerwasel (category 1; 7.1 km; 8.4%).
On the Petit Ballon the front group featured Pinot, Pidcock, Madouas, Barguil, and Ciccone. Harper, Van Gils, Vermaertke, and Uran were chasing 35 seconds behind. The main peloton was 01:15 minutes behind the front group and riders from UAE Team Emirates were setting a fast pace in support of their general classification podium hopefuls Pogacar and Adam Yates – and hoping to assist Pogacar with taking a stage victory before Paris.
Pinot attacked from the front group on the Petit Ballon. Teammate Madouas tried to bridge to Pinot but found it too difficult. Pinot fought hard on his solo quest for a stage victory in the final Tour de France of his long professional career. Many French fans had travelled far to support their champion in his fight to make France proud. Pinot quickly formed a fifteen second lead. Meanwhile, Uran had again been dropped and now rejoined the main peloton. The final chance of success for the EF Education team in this year’s Tour de France appeared misused.
Four kilometers from the top, the main peloton was still spearheaded by UAE Team Emirates, but Jumbo-Visma had sent riders to the front as well.
Pinot was the first rider to reach the top of the Petit Ballon. His feat would be remembered forever, and he was being worshiped by his many fans along the roadsides.
While Pinot had been the first rider across the Petit Ballon, Jumbo-Visma had moved to the front of the main peloton to increase the pace. Was Vingegaard looking for a stage victory for himself or a teammate – or did they set a fast pace to discourage Pogacar from attacking?
While Pinot’s teammate David Gaudu crashed on the descent – which endangered his tenth place in the GC – UAE Team Emirates and the Jumbo-Visma team had reduced Pinot’s advantage to 01:08 minutes. His chances of taking a final Tour stage victory now looked slim.
With 5.4 kilometers left of the Col du Platzerwasel climb, Pogacar attacked from the main peloton. Vingegaard stuck to his rear wheel. Felix Gall (AG2R-Citroen) joined the duo. The accellerations from the main peloton reduced Pinot’s advantage to 24 seconds.
The Yates brothers attacked from behind. Bilbao countered.
Gall, Pogacar, and Vingegaard caught the front riders – including Pinot. The group now featured Vingegaard, Pogacar, Gall, Pinot, Pidcock and Barguil. Pinot and Barguil were dropped. The speed was intense.
Simon Yates attacked from behind looking to advance in the general classification.
At the front only Vingegaard, Pogacar and Gall remained. Yates was 24 seconds behind with 2.7 kilometers left of the climb.
Further back Rodriguez attacked, but Adam Yates countered, hoping to catch brother Simon Yates. Rodriguez was dropped but fought on in impressive fashion despite his serious crash earlier in the stage. Ineos-Grenadiers teammate Pidcock came to his aid.
With 1.3 kilometers left of the stage, Gall was setting a fast pace in the front trio. He was towing Vingegaard and Pogacar.
Gall was first to reach the summit of Col du Platzerwasel and got his place in the history books. However, a descent and flat section of the stage remained before the winner of today’s stage 20 would be found.
With 6.5 kilometers left, Gall complained to Vingegaard and wanted him to take the lead in the front trio. Gall was annoyed with the lack of support from Vingegaard and Gall obviously wasn’t Vingegaard’s teammate.
With five kilometers the two Yates brothers caught the front trio. The winner of the stage would be found between the five riders in front.
Simon Yates attacked with three kilometers left, but Pogacar closed the gap. Adam Yates moved to the front in support of team captain Pogacar.
With 500 meters left the front quintet were still together. Adam Yates was the lead-out man for Pogacar. Vingegaard attacked. Pogacar countered with Gall. Pogacar won!
Tadej Pogacar won the battle royale sprint across the finish line ahead of Felix Gall and Jonas Vingegaard and is the winner of stage 20 of Tour de France 2023.
In the general classification Vingegaard leads Tour de France in 79:16:38. Pogacar is in second place, 07:29 minutes behind the leader, while Adam Yates completes the podium 10:56 minutes behind the Great Dane. Simon Yates advanced one spot to fourth, while Ineos-Grenadiers’ Rodriguez dropped to fifth because of his crash in today’s stage.
Tomorrow’s stage 21 of Tour de France 2023 will be a parade stage into Paris culminating with a mass sprint finish on the famous Champs Elysees.
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