Another Danish rider took the limelight at the Tour de France on Thursday as Kasper Asgreen joined an early breakaway and then held on to win the 18th stage in a sprint finish.
His countryman Jonas Vingegaard took it easy this time, sitting comfortably in the main pack as he protected his huge overall lead. The defending champion leads two-time Tour winner Tadej Pogačar of Slovenia by 7 minutes, 35 seconds and Britain's Adam Yates by 10.45 with Sunday’s finale in Paris getting closer.
But this was Asgreen's day and he spread his arms after beating Dutchman Pascal Eenkhoorn and Norwegian Jonas Abrahamsen in their dash to the line.
“Obviously the situation of our breakaway was not ideal. I would have preferred to break with seven or eight riders. It’s also one of the final stages of the Tour after really hard weeks," Asgreen said. “I didn’t rule out the possibility of winning. My breakaway companions were just excellent out there. We all deserved to win because of how much work we put into the break.”
They were all given the same time of 4 hours, 6 minutes, 48 seconds after holding off a large group of sprinters behind them who left it too late. Star sprinter Jasper Philipsen missed out on another stage win and finished fourth.
After Vingegaard took full control of the race with some jaw-droppingly fast riding to crush Pogacar in the Alps, Thursday's stage offered respite to the main contenders on a flat 185-kilometer (114.6-mile) route from Moûtiers to Bourg-en-Bresse.
Belgian rider Victor Campenaerts joined Asgreen and Abrahamsen to form an early breakaway.
They worked well together and after the first hour had opened up a lead of around one minute. The gap remained the same, give or take a few seconds either way, with under 100 kilometers (62 miles) left.
But the peloton, after rolling along in the sunshine at a mercifully reduced pace compared to previous days, then eventually stepped it up, with Quentin Pacher and Fred Wright setting a higher tempo.
Eenkhoorn was the next to attack and he was the only one to join the trio to make it a four-man group.
The peloton left it too late, and they just held on as Asgreen raised his arms at the line. The huge effort took its toll as he dismounted and sat on the tarmac to get his breath back, before being congratulated by a Soudal Quick-Step teammate.
“It means so much with the period I had this year since I crashed at Tour de Suisse,” Asgreen said. “I’ve come a long way, and to cap it off with a victory like this is amazing.”