MÉRIBEL, France (AFP) – Slovenia’s Primoz Roglic once more prevailed on his toughest test yet to remain on course for Tour de France glory, while Miguel Angel Lopez soloed to a breathtaking stage win atop the highest mountain of the race.
With the Slovenian pair Roglic and Tadej Pogacar playing cat and mouse for the overall leader’s yellow jersey, the cagey Lopez grabbed Wednesday’s 17th stage by the throat with a surging burst for the line that also allowed Roglic to leave behind his 21-year-old rival.
Lopez’s win at high altitude gave Colombia something to celebrate on the day 2019 champion Egan Bernal pulled out after he and his team Ineos failed to live up to expectations.
With two massive mountains the queen stage ascended to 2,304m altitude atop the Col de la Loze, where Tour rookie Pogacar lost just a handful of seconds to Roglic in their ongoing war of attrition.
Pogacar has however been racing virtually alone, and won plaudits challenging Roglic, who has appeared rock-steady with a powerful climb posse surrounding him in Jumbo’s black and yellow outfits.
The Slovenians have been the story of the Tour and will likely square off for the overall win on stage 20’s mouthwatering individual time trial.
As Lopez pulled away team Jumbo leader Roglic also showed too much power for Pogacar on the last agonising kilometer.
Shorn of Bernal Ineos co-captain Richard Carapaz produced a doomed solo bid as the Giro champion was caught on the ever-changing gradient of the final 7km above 2,000m as the top 10 experienced a slight shake-up.
A day after the race was cleared of Covid-19 to run all the way to Paris on Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron was present as the peloton struggled through villages full of ubiquitous baskets of flowers hanging from Swiss-style ski chalets.
In the rarefied air that suits the men from the Andes, the 26-year-old Lopez leapfrogged compatriot Rigoberto Uran and extended his lead over Adam Yates and Richie Porte.