Michael Woods stormed up the Puy de Dome to beat Matteo Jorgenson to a top-flight victory on stage 9 of the Tour de France, while Tadej Pogacar clawed back a few seconds from leader Jonas Vingegaard.
Woods dropped from Jorgenson for almost two minutes on the steep slopes of the dormant volcano, making his first Tour appearance in 35 years and circumnavigating the American with 450 meters to go to complete his first Tour de France at the age of 36 -Complete stage of his career.
More than eight minutes later, the main rivals reached the top of that famous climb, with Pogacar using an attack in the final 1,500 meters to regain eight seconds on Vingegaard, whose lead in yellow has dropped to 17 seconds by the break on Monday day.
“It’s not a win, it’s a small win,” said Pogacar. “I am super happy today, it was super nice. It was quite relaxed up to the last climb, then I immediately felt like my legs were fine and I just waited for the last 1.5km.
“I just walked up and when I started an attack I could see the shadow of (Vingegaard). I could see he was flat out behind me, so I pushed harder and the gap opened up. Then I had to continue all the way to the top.”
Vingegaard struggled to cut losses but Pogacar’s form will be a cause for concern after also making up time with his Stage 6 win.
“I think it’s going to be quite a struggle over the next two weeks,” said Vingegaard. “I didn’t have the best day. I think the rest day will do me good.”
After Vingegaard, British duo Simon Yates and Tom Pidcock were the next riders to head home. Yates recovered some of the losses caused by a late Saturday crash and Pidcock put on an encouraging ride that took him seventh overall.
The mountain bike Olympic champion is aiming to prove himself in the general classification this year, which will take patience over the three weeks, but the 23-year-old’s comments after the stage suggest he is struggling with his racing instincts.
“Fourth place among the (GC) drivers is great, but nobody will remember that in a few days,” said Pidcock.
“I want to try to win a stage, I want to try to get my hands in the air and then I’ll be happy, but if I’m close to the general classification it will be difficult to do that.”
Woods and Jorgenson were among 14 riders who completed the 182.5km stage from Saint Leonard de Noblat, former hometown of the late great Raymond Poulidor who came as close as ever to winning the Tour on the Puy de Dome, cleaned early in 1964 by closing the gap on Jacques Anquetil to 14 seconds.
The narrow road that spirals up to the summit has a long touring history, but not since 1988, long considered too narrow to safely handle modern racing.
With fans locked out of the last four kilometers, the return resulted in a strange but dramatic finale that Jorgenson will not fondly remember.
The 24-year-old American broke away from his fellow fugitives with just under 50km to go, with tagged man Woods trapped in a group that ended up third on the road.
Jorgenson started the steepest section of the climb, where screaming crowds of fans gave way to silence and sorrow, 80 seconds clear of three pursuers while Woods and company were another 25 seconds back.
But as the road climbed, the Canadian went on the offensive, eating into the gap and catching Jorgenson in the last 500 metres. At the end of his tether, Jorgenson was passed by both Pierre LaTour and Matej Mohoric to end the day in fourth while Woods cheered.
“I still have a moment when I feel bad,” said the Israel Premier Tech driver. “I can’t believe I made it. I’m really proud of myself, I’m really proud of my team, it’s something special…
“I’m 36, turning 37 this year, I’m not getting any younger. I’ve always talked about winning a stage in the Tour de France and now I’ve finally done it.”