Tour de France: Pogacar wins stage 18, extends overall lead

Overall, Pogacar now has a massive advantage of five minutes 45 seconds over Vingegaard with Carapaz in third place overall, a further six seconds behind.

Pogacar celebrates after winning stage 18 on Thursday.   -  AP

Tadej Pogacar edged closer to retaining his Tour de France title as he claimed another landmark victory in the 18th stage, a 129.7-km mountain ride from Pau to Luz Ardiden on Thursday.

The Slovenian's brutal acceleration 500 metres from the line, at top of Luz Ardiden, could not be matched by his rivals as Denmark's Jonas Vingegaard and Ecuador's Richard Carapaz finished two seconds behind in second and third, respectively.

The result was a carbon copy of Wednesday's summit finish at the Col du Portet, where Pogacar had already beaten Vingegaard and Carapaz in the second of his three stage wins in this year's Tour.

"I can't believe what's happening to me. Today was a really big stage. My legs were not at 100% and I suffered in the Tourmalet," said Pogacar.

"The ascent to Luz Ardiden was tough, too, but I found my rhythm and I had enough energy for the final sprint."

Overall, Pogacar now has a massive advantage of five minutes 45 seconds over Vingegaard with Carapaz in third place overall, a further six seconds behind.

Colombian Rigoberto Uran, fourth overall at the start, cracked in the penultimate ascent to the Col du Tourmalet to drop out of the top 10.

Australian Ben O'Connor is now fourth, 8:18 off the pace two days before Saturday's final individual time trial.

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Early attackers Matej Mohoric of Bahrain Victorious and world champion Julian Alaphilippe were joined in the ascent of the Tourmalet (17.1km at 7.3%) by a small group featuring French climber David Gaudu.

Gaudu, whose monster work had set up Thibaut Pinot for a landmark win at the Tourmalet in 2019, accelerated and was followed by Alaphilippe, fellow Frenchman Pierre Latour and Portugal's Ruben Guerreiro.

A cooked Alaphilippe was dropped 3.5km from the top with Guerreiro also being left behind two kilometres further up as French president Emmanuel Macron watched from the Tour director's car.

Gaudu broke clear in the descent but he only had a 15-second advantage on an Ineos Grenadiers-led yellow jersey group at the foot of the final climb. He was caught 9.5km from the line.

Pogacar attacked first, 3.5km from the top, with Vingegaard, Carapaz, Spain' Enric Mas and American Sepp Kuss the only ones to follow.

Kuss flagged before Mas started his sprint 700 metres from the line, only for the 22-year-old Pogacar to speed past him with 500 metres, leaving Vingegaard and Carapaz to fight it out for second after the 129.7km ride from Pau.

In addition to the yellow, Pogacar now holds the white jersey for the best Under-25 rider and the polka-dot jersey for the mountains classification.

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