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UAE Team Emirates' Slovenian rider Tadej Pogacar cycles to the finish line to win the 6th stage of the Tour de France race in France on Thursday. Image Credit: AFP

Cauterets-Cambasque, France: Tadej Pogacar bounced back in vintage fashion to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France on Thursday, gaining a psychological edge over Jonas Vingegaard even though the defending champion took the overall leader’s yellow jersey.

The Slovenian, who lost ground to Vingegaard in Wednesday’s first mountain stage, resisted his rival’s attack in the Col du Tourmalet before going solo on the final climb to Cauterets-Cambasque and beating the Jumbo Visma rider by 24 seconds.

After Australian Jai Hindley, who claimed the yellow jersey on Wednesday, was dropped before the top of the Tourmalet, Vingegaard and Pogacar were set to fight for the stage win on the last ascent, a 16km effort at 5.4 per cent.

Pogacar attacked with 2.7km left, taking Vingegaard by surprise after the Dane’s team had done everything to set him up for the win all day, looking to put the hammer down on the 2020 and 2021 champion.

Memorable Tour

They hit their finger with the hammer, instead, as Pogacar emerged as the day’s winner, setting the scene for a potentially memorable Tour.

“In the last four kilometres they told me on the team radio to stay calm but I decided it was the right time to go,” said Pogacar, who now has 10 Tour stage wins to his name.

“(When Vingegaard attacked earlier) I was focused on just staying on his wheel. If I had lost the wheel, it would have been a big problem.” Overall, Vingegaard leads Pogacar by 25 seconds and third-placed Hindley by one minute 34 seconds and, after only six days of racing, it is clear that the race is highly likely to be decided between the two great rivals.

Briton Simon Yates is a distant fourth, 3:14 off the pace, with Spain’s Carlos Rodriguez in fifth 3:30 behind and Adam Yates in sixth place 10 seconds further down.

It was blackboard strategy by Jumbo Visma but Pogacar was much stronger than the day before when he could not follow Vingegaard’s attack in the Col de Marie Blanque and could only limit the damage.

“I wanted to try again but he was stronger today,” said Vingegaard. “It was the toughest start in the history of the Tour. I’d rather have a two-minute lead today but I’m not going to complain about being in yellow.”

Devilish pace

Wilco Kelderman and Sepp Kuss set a devilish pace in the Col du Tourmalet (17.1km at 7.3%) to skim down the peloton, preparing Vingegaard’s attack.

Kuss upped the tempo again with just over four km to go until the top and Pogacar and Hindley were the only ones to follow.

It was too much to handle for Hindley, who sustained the pace for a few seconds only, leaving Pogacar and Vingegaard in Kuss’ slipstream.

Once the American was done with his demolition work, Vingegaard attacked in a steep bend, some two km from the top, but it was not enough to drop Pogacar, who reached 103.5kph in the descent to stay in contact.

They soon rejoined Vingegaard’s team mate Wout van Aert, and the few riders remaining from the day’s breakaway in the flat section leading to the final climb.

Van Aert increased the pace to set up his leader, working himself into the ground and needing a spectator to hold him up as he finished his effort 4.5km from the end.

Pogacar stayed on Vingegaard’s wheel, oddly looking behind him repeatedly before launching a brutal attack that the Dane had not seen coming.

Fending off a sea of fans, flags and flares, Pogacar crushed the pedals to open an unassailable lead and leave Vingegaard dumbfounded.