MEGEVE, France (AP) — Magnus Cort Nielsen won a two-man sprint in a photo-finish to claim the 10th stage of the Tour de France on Tuesday at the end of a hilly trek in the Alps that was interrupted by protestors.
It was Cort Nielsen’s second stage win at cycling’s biggest race after his maiden success in the medieval city of Carcassonne four years ago.
The Danish rider pipped Nick Schultz to the line by a few inches at the end of the long and exhausting climb to the Megeve ski resort after Luis Leon Sanchez, who ended third, launched the sprint.
Cort Nielsen fell on his back, exhausted, once he crossed the finish line.
“I can’t believe what just happened today, I was on the limit for so long on this climb,” he said. “I lost contact with the group a couple of times in the last kilometers. Luckily, it went all back together and I was there.”
Two-time defending champion Tadej Pogacar rode among a group of general contenders that crossed less than nine minutes behind and kept the race lead.
It looked like that Pogacar would relinquish his yellow jersey since Lennard Kämna at some point gained enough time in the day’s breakaway to dream about the famed tunic. But the chasing pack of favorites rode hard in the finale and the Slovenian champion kept hold of his lead.
Pogacar now leads Kämna by 11 seconds ahead of two daunting stages in the high mountains. Kämna is not expected to stay in contention in the thin air and Jonas Vingegaard of Denmark remains Pogacar’s most dangerous rival, 39 seconds off the pace.
Wednesday’s Stage 11 features two legendary Tour passes — the Col du Télégraphe and the Col du Galibier, before a mountain-top finish at the Col du Granon on brutal slopes culminating at 2,400 meters (7,800 feet) above sea level. Thursday’s stage ends at the Alpe d’Huez.
“In the end, it all worked out like it did and I’m still happy that I’m in the yellow jersey,” said Pogacar, who has been in a dominant form since the start of the race.
But with the coronavirus playing havoc within his UAE-Emirates team, the Slovenian rider has already lost two precious teammates who were expected to help him through the mountains. George Bennett was forced out before Stage 10 following a positive coronavirus test, only days after Vegard Stake Laengen also tested positive and withdrew.
UAE-Emirates Team officials later announced that Rafal Majka also tested positive for the virus but was allowed to remain in the race by the International Cycling Union (UCI) medical team.
“When you get a positive (case) in your own bubble, it’s just worrying stress and I hope we’ll survive until the finish,” Pogacar said.
Tuesday’s stage was briefly neutralized with 35 kilometers left after a group of seven activists protesting climate change sat on the road and lit flares, forcing riders to stop for 12 minutes. Alberto Bettiol was in the lead at that point but could not stay at the front for long once the race resumed.
On a very hot day, riders made the most of the break to refresh themselves, pouring water over their neck and heads.