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Vingegaard seizes Tour lead after first big mountain stage

Jonas Vingegaard Jonas Vingegaard - The Canadian Press

COL DU GRANON, France (AP) — The first big mountain stage shook things up at the Tour de France as defending champion Tadej Pogacar wilted toward the end of Wednesday's 11th stage and lost the yellow jersey.

Jonas Vingegaard and his team Jumbo-Visma were the big winners on the stage as the Danish rider claimed the famed jersey from Pogacar, the two-time defending champion who had been the dominant rider so far but cracked in the final ascent on Wednesday and fell more than 2 minutes behind.

Vingegaard and his teammates put on an impressive collective display throughout the day, with clever tactics early in the race and multiple attacks that ultimately unsettled Pogacar.

Vingegaard moved away from Pogacar in the brutal climb to the top of the Col du Granon to enjoy a winning finish to an epic day in the Alps. The 152-kilometer stage featured two other monster ascents, the daunting Col du Telegraphe and Col du Galibier.

Hugo Houle of Sainte-Perpetue, Que., was 52nd in the stage and the top Canadian in 42nd overall.

Ottawa's Michael Woods was 58th in the stage (No. 60 overall), Antoine Duchesne of Saguenay, Que., was 75th (No. 103 overall) and Montreal's Guillaume Boivin was 117th (No. 142 overall).

It was Vingegaard's first stage win at cycling's biggest race. The Danish rider was runner-up last year in the general classification behind Pogacar.

“When I attacked I felt he was going to crack," Vingegaard said. “This time I wanted victory. And I succeeded, and now I have the yellow jersey to keep on fighting all the way to Paris.”

Vingegaard was first at the summit, 59 seconds ahead of Nairo Quintana, with Romain Bardet in third place, 1:10 behind. Geraint Thomas, the 2018 Tour winner, was fourth, 1:38 off the pace.

After 11 stages, Vingegaard leads Bardet by 2 minutes, 16 seconds. Pogacar moved down to third, 2:22 back.

With his teammate Primoz Roglic, Vingegaard relentlessly attacked Pogacar in the thin air. But every time they tried to isolate the leader from the UAE-Emirates team on the Galibier — the highest point of this year’s route at 2,642 meters above sea level — the Slovenian rider responded calmly.

Pogacar even smiled at TV cameras at the foot of the punishing final climb. Guided by teammate Rafal Majka, Pogacar rode at the front of the main contenders' group but the Jumbo-Visma riders' attrition work finally paid off.

“On the Galibier, over the top, he was very strong," Vingegaard said. “I was insecure whether he was going full gas or not. Then I thought that, if I didn’t try all out, I was never gonna win. And of course a second place is nice, but I did it last year already."

When Vingegaard attacked again with 5 kilometers to go, Pogacar just couldn't respond and got dropped. With his yellow jersey wide open, the battered champion struggled until the end.

Vingegaard said the team’s strategy for the day had been planned months in advance, in a bid to make the most of their strong collective.

“We thought it would go in my favor and in the favor of Primoz,” he said. “I took a lot of time today, and I would have never done it without my teammates. They have been incredible.”

Pogacar will have only a night of sleep to recover from his bad day since Thursday's Stage 12 is another mammoth stage with three climbs that are beyond category, including a mountain-top finish at the Alpe d'Huez ski resort.

“I want a revenge," Pogacar said. “It's not over yet."

The Tour ends on July 24th in Paris.