LE MARKSTEIN, France -- Tadej Pogačar edged defending champion Jonas Vingegaard to take the Tour de France's penultimate stage on Saturday but it won't be enough to stop his rival from winning the race.
Vingegaard maintained his overall lead of 7 minutes, 35 seconds over two-time champion Pogačar and will surely be crowned after Sunday's largely ceremonial stage ends on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.
"We have to be careful not to do anything stupid but, yeah, it's amazing to take my second victory in the Tour de France and I almost cannot believe it," Vingegaard said.
Pogačar, who won in 2020 and 2021, claimed his second stage win in the 110th edition of cycling's most famous race but was unable to make up for Vingegaard's huge advantage built in the Alps.
Pogačar had been in outstanding form this year, winning nearly everywhere he raced, but the Slovenian crashed at Liège-Bastogne-Liège in April and needed surgery on a broken wrist. It's hard to say how much that setback impacted his Tour de France hopes.
"Today I finally felt like myself again," Pogačar said. "It was great to feel good again after many days suffering and to pull off a stage win."
Saturday's 133.5-kilometer (83-mile) stage from Belfort to the mountain resort of Le Markstein was the last tough test for the riders and the 3,600 meters of climbing took its toll on many of them.
Young Spanish rider Carlos Rodriguez, who still harbored hopes of overtaking Adam Yates for third place, crashed going around a bend at 33 km. Rodriguez got back on his bike but with blood on his face, arm and leg.
American Sepp Kuss also needed medical attention after a bad crash. It was his second of the Tour.
David Gaudu crashed on the descent from the 1,163-meter-high Petit Ballon. The French rider also continued in apparent pain.
Belgian rider Victor Campenaerts, wearing the bib for most combative rider for the second straight day, was the first to attack.
Italian cyclist Giulio Ciccone celebrated being crowned the Tour's "King of the Mountains" at Col de la Schlucht.
"We had one plan and we did a terrific job to execute it," the Italian cyclist said. "I need to thank all my teammates. They did something crazy right from the start."
Three French riders led by local favorite Thibaut Pinot were among a group of five leaders pushing the pace up Petit Ballon. Pinot decided to go alone six kilometers before the summit, aware that a huge fan party was waiting for him. He crested the summit some 33 seconds ahead of his chasers and 90 seconds ahead of the peloton with Vingegaard and Pogačar.
Pogačar attacked six kilometers before the summit of Col du Platzerwasel, followed closely by Vingegaard. They were joined by Felix Gall and later by the Yates brothers -- Simon and Pogačar's teammate, Adam.
Pogačar attacked again with 2.9 kilometers to go. Again, Vingegaard stayed right on his wheel.
With 250 meters remaining, the Slovenian rider went again. Vingegaard got in front but Pogačar powered past to get the stage win.
"I really appreciate the battle I had with Tadej," Vingegaard said.