Emotional Vingegaard beats Pogacar in the sprint and wins the 11th stage of the Tour de France in the Massif Central

LE LIORAN, France — Just three months ago, Jonas Vingegaard was in a hospital bed with broken ribs and a collapsed lung. On Wednesday, he defeated rival Tadej Pogacar in a two-man sprint after a brutal day in the mountains.

Pogacar, the Tour leader, retained the yellow jersey, but it was the two-time defending champion who claimed a psychological victory at the end of an epic battle in the Massif Central.

The pair left all their rivals behind and Vingegaard, who had opened up a big gap on Pogacar on a brutal climb, overtook his rival in the sprint and crossed the line half a bike length ahead to win the stage.

“It’s obviously very emotional for me. I’m coming back from the accident,” said Vingegaard, trying to hold back tears. “It means a lot to me. All the things I’ve been through in the last three months make you think about it.”

Vingegaard was in hospital for almost two weeks in April after a high-speed crash during the Tour of the Basque Country.

He didn’t compete again until the Tour and his form was full of question marks, but his great ride on Wednesday showed he is more than ready to defend his title.

“I’m just happy to be here. It means so much to me to win a stage, especially for my family. They have been there the whole time and supported me,” said Vingegaard.

Denmark’s Jonas Vingegaard (left) pushes his bike across the finish line to win ahead of Slovenia’s Tadej Pogacar, who wears the overall leader’s yellow jersey, during the 11th stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 211 kilometers (131.1 miles) starting in Evaux-les-Bains and finishing in Le Lorian, France, Wednesday, July 10, 2024. Photo credit: AP/Daniel Cole

True to his habit of attacking at every opportunity, Pogacar attempted to break away alone with a strong attack around 32 kilometers from the finish. After being dropped, Vingegaard kept his cool and proved to be the fastest on the next climb to catch his rival.

Vingegaard said he did not think he could close the gap that Pogacar had opened and was also surprised that he was able to beat him in the sprint.

“I would never have thought that three months ago. I just thought about riding at my own pace and then sprinting.”

The duo then stayed together and gained time on Remco Evenepoel and Primoz Roglic, who crashed shortly before the finish. Evenepoel reached the finish 25 seconds behind, Roglic was 55 seconds behind.

Slovenia’s Primoz Roglic leads ahead of Slovenia’s Tadej Pogacar, wearing the overall leader’s yellow jersey, Spain’s Carlos Rodriguez in red, Belgium’s Remco Evenepoel, wearing the best young rider’s white jersey, and Denmark’s Jonas Vingegaard, far left, as they race downhill during the 11th stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 211 kilometers (131.1 miles) starting in Evaux-les-Bains and finishing in Le Lorian, France, Wednesday, July 10, 2024. Photo credit: AP/Jerome Delay

Evenepoel is 1:06 behind Pogacar overall, Vingegaard is third, 1:14 behind. Roglic is fourth, 2:45 behind the race leader.

The 211-kilometer (131-mile) rollercoaster Stage 11 featured four brutal climbs in its second half and covered more than 4,000 meters of elevation.

The race started at a high pace and the peloton stayed together for about 40 kilometers before the riders were able to break away in wet weather. A group of 10 men rode at the front but split at the foot of the first big climb, the steep Col de Neronne.

Pogacar’s Team Emirates set a fast pace but were caught one by one on the way to Puy Mary, the toughest climb of the day.

Pogacar, a two-time Tour winner, attacked 600 meters from the summit to leave everyone else behind, then went full throttle on the descent. He showed his great skills on the technical descent, extended his lead and started the next climb with a 35-second lead. But Vingegaard still had the last word.

“He’s in top form,” Pogacar said of his rival. “He beat me really well on the finish line and I had a pretty good sprint after a stage like that. He was really strong.”

Thursday’s stage 12 from Aurillac to Villeneuve-sur-Lot is mostly flat, and the battle between Pogacar and Vingegaard is likely to continue this weekend as the peloton reaches bigger mountains in the Pyrenees.