Tadej Pogacar of UAE Team Emirates won the final mountain stage of the Tour de France on Thursday to cement his grip on the race.
The short trek in the Pyrenees featured a daunting combination of the Col du Tourmalet and the final sharp climb to the Luz-Ardiden ski resort, two classics of the Tour.
Pogacar’s main rivals did not take advantage of the brutal course. The defending champion surged away from a reduced group of four riders in the last kilometre.
After Enric Mas attacked, Pogacar countered the move and dropped Jonas Vingegaard and Richard Carapaz to claim a third stage win this year and win his second straight mountaintop finish.
“It’s unbelievable, it’s crazy,” Pogacar said. “It’s been a game for me since I started (my career) and I’m enjoying playing it,” Pogacar said.
Barring an accident, the 22-year-old UAE Team Emirates rider should be crowned Tour champion for the second straight year when the race ends in Paris on Sunday.
Before Sunday’s processional ride leading to the Champs-Elysees, there is just one difficult stage remaining — a time trial through the Bordelais vineyards on Saturday.
Pogacar excels in the race against the clock and won the first time trial of this year’s Tour, beating the pure specialists.
Pogacar has a huge lead of five minutes, 45 seconds over Vingegaard in the general classification. Carapaz is in third place, 5:51 off the pace.
“Still three days, but it looks good,” Pogacar said.
The stage start was overshadowed by the news that the Bahrain Victorious team had been raided by French police as part of a doping investigation. The team confirmed that riders’ rooms were searched by officers at the hotel it stayed in on Thursday in the southwestern city of Pau.
In a statement to The Associated Press, the Marseille prosecutor in charge of the case said a preliminary investigation targeting members of the team was opened on July 3 “for acquisition, transport, possession, import of a substance or method prohibited for use by an athlete without medical justification.”