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Belgium’s Wout van Aert claimed a fine solo win on stage 11 of the Tour de France as leader Tadej Pogacar showed a first glimpse of vulnerability.

Van Aert dominated the double ascent of Mont Ventoux to finish one minute 14 seconds ahead of Kenny Elissonde and Bauke Mollema in Malaucene.

Denmark’s Jonas Vingegaard distanced Pogacar on the second climb of Ventoux.

But the defending champion recovered to catch Vingegaard on the descent, and retains a significant overall lead.

Pogacar is now five minutes 18 seconds ahead of Colombia’s Rigoberto Uran with Denmark’s Vingegaard moving into third, a further 14 seconds behind, as Ben O’Connor dropped from second to fifth after a difficult day for the Australian.

An emotional Van Aert said he was “lost for words” after securing what he described as “maybe my best victory ever”.

The versatile Belgian national champion, 26, has won three flat stages of the Tour before and several elite one-day races, but this is his first mountain stage win, having shown his climbing ability in support of Primoz Roglic last year.

“I didn’t expect to win this stage before the Tour but yesterday I asked the team to go for the breakaways,” he said.

“It’s one of the most iconic climbs in the world and it’s maybe my best victory ever.”

Van Aert’s preparation for the Tour was impaired by appendicitis surgery last month, but he showed his stunning versatility here, winning a brutal stage in the mountains just as day after finishing second to Mark Cavendish in a bunch sprint.

His victory also helps to salvage Jumbo-Visma’s race after a tough start that has seen their leader Roglic withdraw before stage nine because of injury, with Robert Gesink and Tony Martin also pulling out.

Van Aert added: “It was really hard to get to this Tour at a proper level and we’ve had so much bad luck with the team.

“But it’s so nice that if you keep motivated some day it will work out. I can be really proud.”

Jumbo-Visma will also be buoyed by the showing of Vingegaard, 24, who has assumed the team leader role and showed he is prepared to not let Pogacar make the rest of the race a procession to a second consecutive Tour title in Paris.

Ineos Grenadiers did most of the work on the front of the group of favourites all day, with Geraint Thomas adopting domestique duties in service of Richard Caparaz, who is now fourth overall, before the Welshman peeled off to drop to 48th overall.

Though Ineos’ tactic did not put Pogacar in trouble, they did manage to distance O’Connor, Wilco Keldermann, Alexey Lutsenko, Enric Mas, Guillaume Martin and David Gaudu, who struggled in particular to drop from 10th to 15th overall.

The next two stages could well end in bunch sprints, giving green jersey leader Cavendish, who finished safely within the time limit on stage 11, the chance to equal and pass Eddy Merckx’s record of 34 stage wins.

Stage 11 result

1. Wout van Aert (Bel/Jumbo-Visma) 5hrs 17mins 43secs

2. Kenny Elissonde (Fra/Trek-Segafredo) +1min 14secs

3. Bauke Mollema (Ned/Trek-Segafredo) Same time

4. Tadej Pogacar (Slo/UAE Team Emirates) +1min 38secs

5. Rigoberto Uran (Col/EF Education Nippo) Same time

6. Richard Carapaz (Ecu/Ineos Grenadiers)

7. Jonas Vingegaard (Den/Jumbo-Visma)

8. Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz/Astana) +1min 56 secs

9. Wilco Keldermann (Ned/Bora-Hansgrohe) Same time

10. Enric Mas (Spa/Movistar) +3mins 02secs

General classification after stage 11

1. Tadej Pogacar (Slo/UAE Team Emirates) 38hrs 25mins 17secs

2. Rigoberto Uran (Col/EF Education Nippo) + 5mins 18secs

3. Jonas Vingegaard (Den/Jumbo Visma) +5mins 32secs

4. Richard Carapaz (Ecu/Ineos Grenadiers) +5mins 33secs

5. Ben O’Connor (Aus/AG2R Citroen) +5mins 58secs

6. Wilco Kelderman (Ned/Bora-Hansgrohe) +6mins 16secs

7. Alexey Lutsenko (Kaz/Astana) +6mins 30secs

8. Enric Mas (Spa/Movistar) +7mins 11secs

9. Guillaume Martin (Fra/Cofidis) +9mins 29secs

10. Pello Bilbao (Spa/Bahrain Victorious) +10mins 28secs

SOURCE: BBC Sport – Cycling RSS   (go to source)
AUTHOR: By Jack Skelton
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