CHAMPAGNOLE, France – That’s deux for Soren Kragh Andersen at the Tour de France.
The Danish rider who won Stage 14 doubled down and raised his arms in victory again on Stage 19 on Friday, with another cunningly timed attack.
Behind him, saving their last reserves of strength for a time trial on Saturday that will decide the Tour podium, race leader Primož Roglic and his rivals preferred to coast to the finish while Andersen hared off for the prestige of the stage victory.
He left 11 other riders he’d been with in a breakaway for dead with an acceleration 10 miles from the finish in Champagnole in eastern France.
He held up two fingers at the line — one for each of his stage wins.
It was a smooth day in the peloton well behind the stage leader for Roglic and his Jumbo-Visma teammates, including Durango’s Sepp Kuss. They finished 7:38 behind the stage winner. Roglic was 45th, while Kuss was 10 spots further back. Kuss remained 15th overall in the race, where he is likely to finish Sunday in Paris with a nearly eight-minute gap to 14th but an 18-minute advantage on 16th.
“It was another great day for us,” Roglic said in a Jumbo-Visma news release. “We are one day closer to Paris. The boys once again did a great job by keeping me in the front and keeping me safe all day. I’ve emphasized it before, but I can’t do that enough. They were fantastic, and although I am the one who’s wearing it, this yellow jersey really belongs to all of us.”
The focus now shifts to the time trial Saturday, where Roglic will aim to secure his first Tour title, and the first at the 107-year-old race by a Slovenian.
“So far, so good,” he said. “It’s all on me.”
And if he suffers a mishap, Slovenia will still have a second chance, in the shape of Tadej Pogacar, who is second overall.
Just 57 seconds separate the countrymen after more than 2,000 miles of racing on French roads since the Aug. 29 start.
That cushion should be ample for Roglic, the winner of time trials last year at the Spanish Vuelta, which he won, and at the Giro d’Italia, where he finished third.
But his lead could wither with a tumble, a bad breakdown or other accident on the tricky course into the Vosges, the last of five mountain ranges scaled by this Tour.
At national championships in Slovenia in June, Pogacar beat Roglic by nine seconds in a time trial that also had a similar gain in altitude, about 2,300 feet, but was much shorter, at just under 16 kilometers.
The route on Saturday is more than twice that, at 22.5 miles. It will require a nuanced effort, with an initial flat section followed by a first uphill and then a twisting downhill before a sharp climb up hairpin bends to a small ski station, at La Planche des Belles Filles. The finishing ramp is a very steep 20% gradient, with other sections before that of more than 10%.
Pogacar, who has showered his first Tour with his precocious talent, winning two stages, and who turns 22 the day after the finish in Paris, can be counted on to again give it his all.
“If I’m on a good day, it’s a course that suits me well,” he said. “If someone told me I’d be in this position before the Tour, I would never have believed them.”
Back in Slovenia, Roglic is already heading for cult status. Even anti-coronavirus face masks bear the image of the rider who started out as a ski jumper before switching to cycling in 2012 after a harrowing crash.
“When I’m asked if Primož will win, I tell them he’s already our winner,” said Matjaz Svagan, mayor of Roglic’s hometown, which has readied billboards that read “Primož Roglic our pride.”
Behind Roglic and Pogacar — nicknamed Rog and Pog by some — the third-placed rider overall, Miguel Angel Lopez from Colombia, will be aiming to secure his spot on the podium. He is 1 minute, 27 seconds off the race lead, which should put Roglic out of reach for him.
The 146 riders — 30 less than started nearly three weeks ago — would have been 147 had a bee not floored Lukas Pöstlberger on Friday by stinging the Austrian on the mouth shortly after the 166-kilometer (103-mile) stage started in Bourg-en-Bresse. He suffered an allergic reaction, was taken to the hospital and quickly recovered, but his race was over just two days before Champagne corks pop on Paris’ Champs-Élysées boulevard.
For riders like Andersen, not chasing the overall title, Friday was the last chance for a stage win before Sunday’s traditional procession into Paris that usually finishes with a sprint contested by racers not in the running for the iconic yellow jersey.
Among them will likely be Sam Bennett and Peter Sagan, who have been locked in an engrossing Tour-long battle for the green jersey awarded to riders who vacuum up the most points on sprints during and at the end of stages.
Sagan has already won the points-for-sprints jersey a record seven times at previous Tours.
Bennett, from Ireland, is aiming to win his first and has a lead of 55 points that almost certainly means Sagan won’t be taking it back to Slovakia again this year.
But as they locked horns again on Stage 19, Andersen outsmarted them both. Just moments after they’d run out of breath on a short hill climb in pursuit of Italian rider Matteo Trentin, third in the green jersey standings, Andersen pounced.
“That was my moment,” he said.
Powering alone to the finish, unsure how large his lead was, he screamed at a race organizers’ motorbike for an update on the time gap. About one minute, came the response.
Job done. Again.
“Incredible,” he said. “Memories for life.”
Herald sports editor John Livingston contributed to this report.