Tour de France stage 21: Jordi Meeus stuns favorites in photo-finish

Jonas Vingegaard delivers a near-perfect performance to win a second straight yellow jersey, while Tadej Pogačar attacks on final laps in sign of intention.

Photo: AFP via Getty Images

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Jordi Meeus (Bora Hansgrohe) delivered a stunner to pip the favorites in the final sprint to close out the Tour de France on Sunday.

Dylan Groenewegen (Jayco-AlUla) opened up in the season’s most prestigious sprint, with pre-stage favorite Jasper Philipsen (Alepcin Deceuninck) carrying speed.

Meeus surged late with a well-timed bike throw to reveal why the team chose him over former green jersey winner Sam Bennett. Philipsen was second, Groenewegen third, and Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek) fourth in a photo finish to close out the 2023 Tour.

“I knew in the previous sprints that there was more possible than the results I showed so far and today everything went perfect. I am super happy to finish it off,” Meeus said. “It is my first Tour, it is a super nice experience already so far. And yeah, to take the win today is just an indescribable feeling.”

None other than Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) pulled off the front of the bunch once the peloton hit the Champs-Élysées in what was about pride and intention after missing out on the overall.

A flurry of other ill-fated breakaway attempts livened up the cobblestoned laps, but no one could deny the collective mass of the peloton. Too many riders want to win the peloton’s most prestigious sprint.

With the sprinters racing for one more shot at glory, Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) rolled across the line with his teammates to celebrate to lay claim to his second straight yellow jersey.

Also read: Sepp Kuss tumbles out of top 10 but keeps on pushing

His victory sees the quiet, unassuming Dane emerging as the most dangerous grand tour rider in the peloton. Hobbled by a wrist injury in April that disrupted his preparation, Pogačar finished a distant second in the overall.

After three weeks and more than 3,000km of racing, the peloton put a dramatic exclamation point on the 2023 edition with an emphatic sprint down Europe’s most famous boulevard.

The final kick closed the most important men’s stage just as the women’s edition opened early Sunday afternoon in Clermont-Ferrand. The Tour de France Femmes avec Zwift keeps the racing action going all week.

The start of the Vingegaard era? Pogačar says not so fast

Jonas Vingegaard
Jonas Vingegaard delivered a near-perfect race to win for the second time. (Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images)

The celebratory final laps on the Champs-Élysées capped an eventful and attack-riddled edition of the Tour. From its lumpy start in Spain’s Basque Country, Vingegaard and Pogačar were locked in another epic struggle for the yellow tunic.

The GC was knotted up until Vingegaard delivered a pair of knock-out punches, first in the individual time trial and then the next day over the Col de la Loze on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The race-winning time differences pushed the Dane firmly into yellow, but the dazed Pogačar bounced back to win Saturday’s stage to reconfirm his fighting spirit.

Also read: Tom Pidcock ‘felt like a pretender’ in GC bid

The pair seem destined for many more battles in the years to come.

Behind them, Adam Yates delivered his first grand tour podium to give UAE Team Emirates second and third behind another dominating performance by Jumbo-Visma.

Giulio Ciccone (Lidl-Trek) won the King of the Mountains jersey after Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) carried the polka-dots deep into the third week. Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) easily won green after dominating the sprints.

Pogačar won his fourth and final young rider’s white jersey, and next year he will be too old for the category. Jumbo-Visma won the team’s prize in another confirmation of its superiority across three weeks.

How it played out:

Jonas Vingegaard
Vingegaard celebrates his second victory. (Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images)

The final stage of the Tour de France took the riders 115.1km from Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines to Paris and was, as ever, marked by celebrations by the individual jersey holders marking their achievements, as well as the Jumbo-Visma squad of race winner Vingegaard.

The peloton itself was also in party mode, a sense of relief pervading as the three-week race neared its conclusion.The first half was a cruise but the pace gradually inched upwards as they neared the Champs Élysées circuit. Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal-QuickStep) surprised nobody when he was the first attacker heading up the finishing straight, trying in vain to drag a group clear

Coming to the end of lap one Pogačar launched with 48.3km left on the clock. Nathan Van Hooydonck (Jumbo-Visma) marked him and refused to contribute, with the bunch chasing behind.

The duo got 10 seconds under Pogačar’s efforts alone. Van Hooydonck then took one turn, but subsequently decided not to contribute again. Several small groups of riders clipped away from the bunch to try to get across and six managed to do so, bridging as they exited the Champs with 37.9km remaining.

The octet quickly got 14 seconds, with Michael Kwiatkowski (Ineos Grenadiers), Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost), Yves Lampaert (Soudal-QuickStep), Matej Mohorič (Team Bahrain Victorious), Nils Politt (Bora-Hansgrohe), Matthias Skjelmose (Lidl-Trek), Alex Edmondson (Team DSM Firmench) and Harold Tejada (Astana Qazaqstan) contributing to Pogačar’s efforts but without any sustained conviction.

Another break, another chase

Tour de France
The peloton hits Paris. (Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images)

The bunch hauled them back passing the Arc Du Triomphe with 33km remaining. Simon Clarke was next to try, kicking clear with 30.8km to go and rapidly being joined by Frederik Frison (Lotto Dstny) and Nelson Oliveira (Movistar Team).

Behind, a seemingly indefatigable Pogačar tried again to get away from the bunch.The trio were 19 seconds clear starting three laps to go and continued ploughing on over the cobblestones, with Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe) having a scare with chain problems with 18km left.

The Australian would be able to get back in by surfing the team cars, even if the sprinters’ teams were ratcheting the speed increasingly higher.Clarke, Oliveira and Frison hammering onwards but even if the road surface was becoming wet with rain, the peloton would not be stopped.

Things were back together with 10km to go; other attacks were launched but despite efforts by strong riders like Alberto Bettiol (EF Education-EasyPost) and Rémi Cavagna (Soudal QuickStep) nothing got far.Jayco AlUla, Lidl-Trek and Bora-Hansgrohe were amongst those fighting for position heading towards the final kilometer, trying to set things up for Dylan Groenewegen, Mads Pedersen and Jordi Meeus respectively.

Pogačar took them under the kite and then Alpecin-Deceuninck took over for Jasper Philipsen, leading them onto the finishing straight with Mathieu van der Poel leading out the sprint. Groenewegen launched, Philipsen hit the front but Meeus came off Pedersen’s wheel and thundered up on the left side to seize a win that stunned even himself.

As for race winner Jonas Vingegaard, he and his teammates dropped off the back well before the sprint and cruised in together, celebrating a second successive Tour victory.

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