Paris [France], July 11 (ANI): Jonas Vingegaard (Visma-Lease a Bike) capped his dream return from injury and dealt his big rival Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) a psychological blow by outsprinting the Slovenian to the line to win Stage 11 of the Tour de France by half a wheel in the ski resort of Le Lioran.

Action from Tour de France 2024 - Stage 12 - Aurillac - Villeneuve-sur-Lot will be broadcast live on Eurosport from 19:30 hrs (07:30 pm IST) onwards on Thursday.

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Belgium's Evenepoel crossed the line 25 seconds down for third place and ahead of Slovenia's Primoz Roglic (Red Bull-Bora-Hansgrohe), who lost time after crashing on a tight corner in the closing moments of a dramatic day in the heart of France.

Roglic recovered to take fourth place in the stage but is now 2'45" down on his countryman Pogacar, whose lead over principal rival Vingegaard now stands at 1'14" ahead of the Pyrenees and Alps.

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With the opening three hours of the 211km stage ridden at an astonishing average speed of 45.87km/h it was not until halfway through the relentlessly hilly test for the day's breakaway to form. And when it did, Pogacar's clinical UAE squad never allowed the gap to grow out much more than two minutes - mindful of the bonus seconds up for grabs over the fifth of six categorised climbs, the Col de Pertus.

Pogacar indeed took those points - but only by a whisker, after Vingegaard clawed his way back following the yellow jersey's earlier attack on the Puy Mary. The two riders then stuck together over the final climb before duking it out for the stage win and final bonus seconds at the finish.

Vingegaard led out the sprint and Pogacar - clearly feeling the pinch from his earlier efforts - was unable to pass the Dane on the unforgiving uphill drag to the line.

Victory for 27-year-old Vingegaard capped an extraordinary return for a rider ruled out of competition since early April following a horror crash that saw him puncture his lung, break several ribs and his collarbone.

"It's of course very emotional to me - coming back from the crash," Vingegaard said while wiping away tears during his warm-down on the rollers.

"It means a lot. All the things I went through in the last three months. It makes you think of that. I would never have been able to do this without my family. I'm just happy to be here. It means so much to win a stage - especially to win it for my family. They were there supporting me the whole time.

"I couldn't follow the attack [of Pogacar]. It was a very, very strong attack. I just had to fight. Actually, I didn't think I'd be able to make it back, but I just kept fighting. I made it back and started relaying with him. I was a bit surprised I could beat him in the sprint - I'm just so happy. I'd never have thought this was possible three months ago."

Asked whether he had dealt his rival a psychological blow ahead of the Pyrenees, he said: "I wasn't even thinking of that. I was only thinking about doing my own pace, then later on doing the sprint."

After a stage described by Britain's Geraint Thomas as the easiest of the 250 stages of his Tour de France career to date, Wednesday's undulating schlep through the Massif Central could well have been one of the hardest for the Ineos Grenadier veteran - and everyone else in the peloton.

It was certainly no picnic for Cofidis duo Alexis Renard and Ion Izagirre, who found themselves off the back early on and were soon forced to withdraw because of illness. Britain's Fred Wright (Bahrain Victorious) was also struggling from the outset - the 25-year-old doggedly continuing despite still having 30km to ride by the time Vingegaard took the win.

Illness was clearly an issue for Bahrain Victorious as much as it was for Cofidis since the team's GC rider Pello Bilbao also endured a hellish day in the saddle, the Basque climber coming home in the gruppetto 38 minutes in arrears.

Britain's Tom Pidcock was active in many early attempts to infiltrate the day's break alongside Ineos Grenadiers team-mate Michal Kwiatkowski but he, too, eventually came home over half an hour down after another day of disappointment.

When the breakaway did finally form, 10 riders came together after the first categorised climb. It included two EF Education-EasyPost riders in Richard Carapaz and Ben Healy who had been present in several other thwarted moves off the front.

Also present were French riders Julien Bernard (Lidl-Trek), Bruno Armirail and Paul Lapeira (both Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale), Romain Gregoire (Groupama-FDJ), Matteo Vercher (TotalEnergies) and Guillaume Martin (Cofidis), as well as Spain's Oier Lazkano (Movistar) and Scottish debutant Oscar Onley (Team dsm-firmenich PostNL).

But with Tim Wellens and Nils Politt tapping out tempo for UAE Team Emirates on the nose of a gradually streamlining peloton, the advantage was slowly whittled down from two minutes before Pogacar made his expected move.

That move came on the fourth climb of the day, the Puy Mary, once the main field had been reduced to around 20 riders. After Australia's Jai Hindley (Red Bull-Bora-Hansgrohe) dropped back along with Visma duo Wilco Kelderman and Matteo Jorgenson, both Roglic and Vingegaard found themselves isolated - the Dane having already lost Wout van Aert to a freak crash just moments ahead of the ascent.

A short but sharp pull from Juan Ayuso set off the first detonation before Adam Yates and Joao Almeida took over the pyrotechnics for the men in yellow helmets.

Carapaz, Lazkano and Healy - the last three remaining riders from the break - were caught one by one as the gradient ramped up. Then, on the steepest 13% section inside the final kilometre of the climb, Pogacar struck out with 32km remaining.

After the yellow jersey's three main rivals looked at each other searchingly, Vingegaard eventually set out in pursuit with Roglic while Evenepeol dropped back. The gap was less than 10 seconds over the top - but Pogacar extended this on the descent, despite almost coming a cropper on a corner when his back wheel locked up.

Vingegaard was caught by Roglic and then the chasing Evenepoel group ahead of the Col de Pertus, where the Dane got into a good rhythm and set out alone in pursuit of the man in yellow.

Pogacar's lead gradually came down, the 25-year-old perhaps paying for his earlier efforts or failing to fuel properly. Although he was caught just ahead of the summit, Pogacar had enough zip in his legs to take the eight bonus seconds ahead of Vingegaard, who settled for five. By going over the top in the pole position, Pogacar also took over the lead in the king of the mountains competition previously ruled by Norway's Jonas Abrahamsen (Uno-X Mobility).

The winners of the last four Tours combined on the descent and started the final climb of the Col de Font de Cere with a 35-second lead over Evenepoel and Roglic. Rather than battle it out, they seemed content to share the workload and wait for the final sprint - as echoed in Pogacar's refusal to attack on the descent after Vingegaard led them over the summit.

Behind, Roglic crashed on that same narrow, twisting descent after losing his front wheel on the apex of a tight hairpin bend while trying to keep up with Evenepoel. The Red Bull rider was back on his bike after a few adjustments to his chain, but he lost further valuable time in his push for the podium positions.

Pogacar was content to follow in the wheel of Vingegaard on the short final rise towards the finish in Le Lioran - perhaps confident he had the kick to swoop past his nemesis on the home straight.

But the final piece of the jigsaw in Vingegaard's turnaround came when the Dane launched the sprint and held off Pogacar to win by half a wheel. Victory for the Slovenian would have seen him at least emerge from the stage with a seven-second swing in bonuses. But the result meant, for all his and his team's effort, Pogacar ended the day one second down on Vingegaard, whose form seems to be getting better and better by the day.

Thursday's Stage 12 from Aurillac to Villeneuve-sur-Lot features some rolling roads and three Cat.4 climbs but should reopen the door to the sprinters - or even the breakaway artists who may have felt short-changed by a dramatic day in the Massif Central that saw serious questions asked of the yellow jersey despite his early exploits in blowing the race apart. (ANI)

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