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Pogacar wins Stage 17, Vingegaard closer to title

PEYRAGUDES, FRANCE (AP) – Tadej Pogacar claimed a third stage win as he sprinted away from Jonas Vingegaard in the punishing last climb of a gruelling trek in the Pyrenees on Wednesday but failed to take significant time out of the Tour de France leader.

As so often in this year’s race, the pair were in a class of their own and were left fighting each other in the brutal final kilometre up to Peyragudes airstrip.

Once Pogacar’s teammate Brandon McNulty – who paced his leader throughout the day through punishing ascents with an impressive effort of pure dedication – got dropped, it was time for a final showdown in high altitude.

In the steep ramp leading to the finish, Pogacar accelerated with about 300 metres left.

Vingegaard countered with ease but the two-time defending champion had the final say with a final kick that helped him surge ahead and cross first, with Vingegaard on his wheel.

Brandon McNulty of the United States (L), Slovenia’s Tadej Pogacar (C), , and Denmark’s Jonas Vingegaard climb Peyragudes pass during the 17th stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 130 kilometres with start in Saint-Gaudens and finish in Peyragudes, France. PHOTO: AP

With just one big mountain stage left and an individual time trial before the race reaches Paris on Sunday, Vingegaard looks set for his first Tour de France win.

But Pogacar still believes.

“I’m optimistic that I can still win the Tour,” the 23-year-old Slovenian said. “Tomorrow is a harder stage, so we can try again.”

Since his bad day in the Alps when he relinquished the yellow jersey to Vingegaard, Pogacar has been on the attack but has not managed to make up the time he lost to his rival.

The UAE-Emirates team member has also been forced to cope with many withdrawals in his team. On Wednesday, Rafal Majka pulled out of the race because of a thigh injury. Pogacar had already seen his support unit reduced to four riders following the earlier withdrawals of George Bennett, Vegard Stake Laengen and Marc Soler.

Pogacar will have one last chance to unsettle the Jumbo-Visma team leader in the mountains during the gruelling final Pyrenean stage.

After that, his last occasion to turn the race upside down will be tomorrow’s time trial.

Pogacar’s hat-trick of stage wins this year took his career tally to nine. Vingegaard was runner-up last year behind Pogacar.

With the time bonus awarded to the stage winner, Pogacar moved four seconds closer to Vingegaard, who now has an overall lead of two minutes, 18 seconds in the general classification.