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Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) won stage 6 of the Tour de France in an uphill sprint in Longwy on a day that will be long remembered for yellow jersey Wout van Aert’s sustained but doomed onslaught at the head of the race.
The Jumbo-Visma man ultimately conceded his yellow jersey to Pogačar, but only after spending most of the day on the attack at the head of the race. Van Aert repeatedly split the field in the opening kilometers, and he was the last survivor of the day’s break before he was finally caught and dropped by the peloton with 11km remaining.
Pogačar later splintered the leading group with an acceleration of his own on the Côte de Pulventeux with 5.5km remaining, and his UAE Team Emirates squad set about pegging back late attacker Alexis Vuillermoz (TotalEnergies) on the final approach to the line.
Rafal Majka and Brandon McNulty led the front group up the 2km drag to the finish and although Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) opened the sprint from distance, Pogačar delivered an emphatic response, winning the stage from Michael Matthews (BikeExchange-Jayco) and David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ).
The 10-second time bonus for the stage win was enough to lift Pogačar ahead of Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) in the overall standings and into the yellow jersey. He leads the American by 4 seconds, with Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) now third at 31 seconds.
Van Aert was the principal aggressor during a searingly fast opening phase, attacking incessantly while the peloton repeatedly split and reformed behind, with some 52.5km covered in the first hour of racing.
He eventually forced his way clear with 148km remaining, bringing Quinn Simmons (Trek-Segafredo) and Jakob Fuglsang (Israel Premier Tech) with him, and the peloton seemingly accepted there was little point in trying to reason with the maillot jaune when he was in this mood.
His offensive early morning echoes of his rival Mathieu van der Poel’s defense of yellow on the road to Le Creusot at last year’s Tour, although it was perhaps more reminiscent of Eddy Merckx’s aggression on the road to Marseille in 1971.
That afternoon, however, Merckx’s boundless energy was diverted towards the clear goal of trying to regain the yellow jersey from Luis Ocaña. Van Aert, by contrast, was already in the overall lead and he is part of a team with two riders targeting final overall victory. His attack made little strategic sense, but racing against all logic made for gripping viewing.
Not even a slipped chain on the Côte des Mazures and a later bike change could discourage Van Aert, who built a maximum lead of just under four minutes. He later picked up full points at the intermediate sprint, but it was clear that his eyes were on a grand exploit rather than managing his substantial lead in the green jersey standings.
Bora-Hansgrohe, Alpecin-Deceuninck and EF Education-EasyPost combined to lead the chase behind, and out front, Fulgsang sat up with 65km to go, but Van Aert and Simmons maintained a buffer of two minutes as they entered the final 50km. The pace in the bunch picked up afterwards, with German champion Nils Politt particularly effective, but Van Aert refused to be discouraged, and he eased clear of Simmons with 30km remaining.
The terrain grew more rugged from here, yet Van Aert still maintained a 30-second advantage deep into the finale, even as Ineos Grenadiers massed in pursuit. He was eventually recaptured just after the category 4 Côte de Montigny-sur-Chiers with 11km remaining, and the day’s spoils would fall to Pogačar.
More to follow…
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