Asgreen wins stage 18 of the Tour de France, Vingegaard defends his great lead

Another rider from Denmark caught the spotlight at the Tour de France when Kasper Asgreen was part of a group that broke away at the start on Thursday and then held on to win the 18th stage after a sprint to the finish.

His compatriot Jonas Vingegaard managed a transitional stage in the Grand Boucle smoothly, content to ride alongside the main pack to retain his vast lead as overall leader.

Heading to the end of Sunday in Paris, the defending champion maintains a 7-minute, 35-second gap over Tadej Pogacar, the two-time Tour champion. Britain’s Adam Yates is third, trailing by 10:45.

But Asgreen was the protagonist of the day. He opened his arms after beating the Dutchman Pascal Eenkhoorn and the Norwegian Jonas Abrahamsen in sprinting to the finish.

“The situation was not ideal. I would have liked to get away with seven or eight cyclists, even more so when we find ourselves in the last stages of the Tour de France after some pretty tough weeks”, commented Asgreen, rider of the Soudal-Quick Step team. “I did not rule out that we could defeat the peloton. It’s been like a team time trial all day. My escape companions have been phenomenal. We all deserved the victory because of how hard we worked, and I’m happy that it was my turn to take it home.”

They all clocked 4 hours, 6 minutes and 48 seconds after holding off a larger group of sprinters who attacked too late. Jasper Philipsen, a sprint specialist, also fell short to add another stage win and finished fourth.

After Vingegaard seized complete control of the Tour by sweeping Pogacar in the Alps, Thursday’s stage gave the leaders a respite by covering a flat 185-kilometre (114.6 miles) distance between Moûtiers and Bourg-en-Bresse.

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The Belgian Victor Campenaerts joined Asgreen and Abrahamsen to take off in the first kilometer. After the first hour, they had opened up a lead of almost a minute. The margin remained almost intact with 100 kilometers (62 miles) to go.

But the peloton, riding at a moderate pace in the sun, eventually closed in, with Quentin Pacher and Fred Wright picking up the pace.

Eenkhoorn was the next to decide to go on the attack to form a top quartet.

The peloton waited too long to respond, getting to see Asgreen raise his winning arms.

“This victory means a lot to me coming from such a tough year that I have had since my crash at the 2022 Tour of Switzerland,” said Asgreen. “I’ve had to work really hard, and finishing off the process with a win like this is fantastic.”

The 19th stage on Friday will have a medium-mountain route — 172.8 kilometers — between the towns of Moirans-en-Montagne and Poligny. The ports of the Cote du Bois de Lionge (fourth category) and the Cote d’Ivory (third) loom as the only major pitfalls before the finish line.

Despite having the general victory well outlined, Vingegaard does not let his guard down.

“My strategy for the next few days is just to stay focused and stay out of trouble with the help of my teammates, who did a phenomenal job today,” said the Jumbo-Visma rider. “We will only relax when the stage in Paris is over.”

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