Monsieur Le Président Emmanuel Macron applauded the new patron Jonas Vingegaard on the big podium of the Tour de France at 1520 meters and was very impressed. "It was extraordinary," said the French head of state after a memorable day in the Pyrenees.
It's true, because Vingegaard not only took the crucial step towards overall victory on Thursday in the ski resort of Hautacam, like his Danish compatriot Bjarne Riis did with his confident stage victory, but also showed himself to be a true champion.
It was a day of grand gestures – both on and off the bike. Vingegaard, who naturally waited at a hot stage of the race after rival Tadej Pogacar fell. And the Slovenian, after all Tour Champion of 2020 and 2021, who honestly congratulated the Dane immediately after the end of a breathtaking duel. A day that produced many winners. And a sad loser: Simon Geschke, whose dream of the first German mountain jersey burst in Paris.
"That's incredible. I spoke to my wife and daughter before the stage and said I would love to win for them. I'm very proud that I did it," said Vingegaard.
Until then, the 18th stage provided above all a great spectacle. Pogacar, who ended up second-placed, constantly attacked the yellow jersey on the penultimate climb before the big drama broke out on the breakneck descent from the Col de Spandelles. First Vingegaard (25) avoided a fall with a skilful maneuver, then his rival from Slovenia fell in a curve.
But Vingegaard showed true greatness and waited for Pogacar. Shortly thereafter, the 23-year-old was back on the rear wheel with tattered cycling shorts and a grazed leg. Both shook hands. Memories of the duels between Jan Ullrich and Lance Armstrong were awakened. “He paid taxes and ended up in the gravel. Of course I waited," Vingegaard said of the key scene.
Geschke (36) was already far behind at that time. For the native Berliner, the dream of the first German mountain king in Paris was shattered. After nine days, the man with the full beard had to give up his red dotted dress on the last Pyrenees stage.
Instead, Vingegaard grabbed the mountain jersey almost in passing during his demonstration of power on the super-difficult 18th stage with more than 4000 meters of altitude difference. After parrying all of his rival Pogacar's attacks, the Dane knocked him out with his attack with 4.4km to go. As early as 1996, Riis had eliminated the last doubts about the tour triumph in Hautacam - albeit with illegal means, as he later admitted.
Vingegaard ended up 64 seconds ahead, putting him 3:26 ahead of Pogacar in the overall standings. That should be enough to make the second Danish tour victory on Sunday in Paris perfect. Because all-rounder Pogacar should hardly be able to make up for this gap in the individual time trial on Saturday. The man in yellow doesn't want to know anything about the overall victory yet: "If I survive the next two days, we can talk." Vingegaard is also in the mountains classification with 72 points and is unassailable ahead of Geschke (64).
For Geschke, hopes of another coup in a mountain jersey were already gone at the Col d'Aubisque. The 36-year-old first missed the breakaway group shortly after the start in the pilgrimage town of Lourdes, then his race to catch up was unsuccessful before he finally had to be completely torn away with his tongue out. Geschke was at the end of his tether after eagerly scoring points almost every day. He reached the finish a good 34 minutes behind.
For the first time in 26 years, the tour will be dominated by Danish Dynamite. Appropriately enough, the Grand Depart already took place in Copenhagen, after which Vingegaard, Mads Pedersen and Magnus Cort Nielsen collected a total of four stage wins. For comparison: hosts France weren't allowed to celebrate yet.
For the most successful tour participant in the peloton, on the other hand, the race is over. Chris Froome, the winner of 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017, tested positive for Corona and had to retire from the race. This also applied to the Spaniard Imanol Erviti and the Italian Damiano Caruso, with the tour already reporting a total of 15 corona cases.
After the three difficult Pyrenean stages, the stars of the industry can take a breather on Friday. The 19th stage over 188.3 kilometers from Castelnau-Magnoac to Cahors mostly runs over flat terrain.