Paris: Primoz Roglic strengthened his grip on the yellow jersey after an intriguing battle on the Col de la Loze as Miguel Angel Lopez rode onto the virtual podium by becoming the ninth rider to pick up a maiden win in this year’s Tour de France with victory in Stage 17.
A pulsating conclusion to the 170km Alpine test on Wednesday saw Slovenia’s Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) ride clear of compatriot Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) in pursuit of Astana’s Lopez, the Colombian lone ranger, ahead of a final kilometre of brutal double-digit ramps.
The Tour’s first ascent of the Col de la Loze bike path above the ski resort of Meribel lived up to its billing as the queen stage as fans flocked to the summit of the highest point of the Tour and the riders delivered the drama in spades.
Lopez held on for the win in front of French President Emmanuel Macron with Roglic weathering Pogacar’s fevered chase to come home 15 seconds down and extend his lead on his compatriot to 49 seconds ahead of the final day in the Alps.
Victory for Lopez saw the 26-year-old ride into third place in the general classification, 1’26” down on Roglic, while Pogacar, the double stage winner who came home 30 seconds down, took some consolation in moving into the lead of the polka dot jersey standings.
Fourth over the line at the 2,304-metre finish was American Sepp Kuss, who had ridden clear of the leaders with two kilometres remaining only to sit up and wait for his Jumbo-Visma teammate as Lopez made his decisive move.
A solid fifth place for Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) saw the Australian veteran rise to fourth place in the standings ahead of Britain’s Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), who stayed in fifth after coming home alongside Spain’s Mikel Landa and behind another Spaniard, Enric Mas of Movistar.
Landa’s Bahrain-Merida team set out their stall early for their leader, riding to the front en masse to set a hefty tempo on the Col de la Madeleine to all but thwart the chances of the day’s five-man break before whittling down the main pack on the start of the final 21.5km climb.
But as the road narrowed and the gradient worsened above the ski resort of Meribel, Landa was unable to repay his team with the attack the world craved but which nobody really expected.
Instead, Jumbo-Visma were able to control matters with their power in numbers, with Kuss, Tom Dumoulin and Wout van Aert all putting in a big shift before the eventual fireworks spelled the end for the last remaining escapee, Ecuador’s Richard Carapaz of Ineos Grenadiers, with 3km to go.
With all eyes on the man in white, it wasn’t Pogacar, the Tour’s best young rider, who made the first move, but Lopez, the diminutive rider in baby blue, who attacked in a moment of indecision after Kuss had ridden clear on one of the numerous flat steps ahead of the last, seemingly interminable slog towards the summit.
As the storm clouds gathered, Roglic dropped Pogacar in his pursuit of Lopez and a potential second stage win. The 21-year-old yo-yoed behind, at one point almost closing the gap despite having to ward off the gathering fans with his arms.
With the finish in sight, Pogacar put in a last-ditch attempt to draw level with Roglic and reignite the battle for yellow, but as the gradient kicked up to 20% the elastic finally snapped. And so, advantage to the 30-year-old Roglic, who extends his cushion to almost a minute ahead of the final day in the Alps and Saturday’s decisive time trial to La Planche des Belles Filles.