Chatel, France: Luxembourg’s Bob Jungels powered to victory in stage nine of the Tour de France on Sunday holding off Thibaut Pinot to cross the line alone after a 192km race through Switzerland to the French border.
Defending champion Tadej Pogacar made a late burst for the line to gain a few seconds on some rivals as the Slovenian further tightened his grip on the overall lead with a fifth-place finish.
Pogacar hailed his UAE Team Emirates as the strongest at the Tour after they surrounded him all day, setting up his late burst.
“Every time there is a chance to take a few seconds, why not, it was a three second gap in the end,” said Pogacar.
Poor form and health issues
Jungels previously won Liege-Bastogne-Liege, but has been frustrated with poor form in recent years because of health issues.
“It’s so nice to be back at the top of the roller-coaster,” said Jungels.
“This is one of the most beautiful days of my career,” continued the 29-year-old a day after one of his AG2R teammates pulled out with Covid-19.
“I went down that last hill at top speed, and that made the difference.”
Andy Schleck was the last man from Luxembourg to win a Tour de France stage eleven years ago.
On a hot day with over 40km ascent as the peloton rolled into the Alps, past Charlie Chaplin’s long-time residence at Vevey on the north shore of Lake Geneva, the stage was a prelude for three upcoming mountain slogs.
Jungels raced a full 62km on his own after going solo from an early breakaway.
Some 20km from the finish line at the ski resort of La Port de Soleil on the French border, Frenchman Pinot chased after him, gradually eating into a two-minute lead, but ever got closer than 20 sec adrift before giving up.
Ineos Grenadiers’ Jonathan Castroviejo eventually finished second 22 seconds adrift with Carlos Verona of Movistar third and Pinot fourth.
Jumbo’s Wout van Aert maintained his stranglehold on the sprint points green jersey, but his bid for a solo escape lost steam on Sunday.
Ineos Tour rookie Tom Pidcock will take the white jersey into next week albeit as second-placed under-26’s rider behind Pogacar.
But Dane Magnus Cort Neilsen finally lost his grip on the polka dot jersey, taken by Simon Geschke.
Rest day on Monday
Monday’s rest day will be followed by three consecutive Alpine mountaintop finishes as the riders desperately jostle for position in the overall standings on climbs such as the gruelling Alpe d’Huez.
Stage 10 runs from Morzine to Megeve, stage 11 Albertville to Col du Granon and stage 12 from Briancon to Alpe d’huez.
Pogacar said the third of the three looked toughest but all of them were hard.
“Galibier is so long but Alpe d’huez is so steep and so long, it’s the hardest stage,” he said of the Queen stage on the French national holiday on July 14.