Tadej Pogacar launched a relentless challenge in the final stretch of the longest stage of the Tour de France to grab the overall lead on Thursday.
The UAE Team Emirates rider, chasing a hat-trick of titles, mounted his attack in the final 200 metres to win the 220-kilometre sixth stage in 4 hours 27 minutes and 13 seconds from Australian Michael Matthews and Frenchman David Gaudu.
Pogacar's teammates Rafał Majka and Brandon McNulty led him up the final climb before the Slovenian went for broke. Jumbo-Visma rider Primoz Roglic initially overtook him, but in the end the reigning champion had too much strength and speed.
“Yes, every time I win, it's even better,” Pogacar said.
Belgian overnight leader Wout Van Aert had spent much of the day driving the pace as he powered a breakaway, then emerging as the last survivor as he tried to take on the peloton alone for the final 30km.
But after he was reeled in 10km from Longwy – sitting up and finishing some seven minutes down – Pogacar took over and was able to celebrate short of the line.
“Today was so hard from the start, the first two hours was so crazy," added Pogacar. "The strongest guy went in the breakaway (Van Aert). A lot of guys pulling in the peloton, our team as well. I was thinking that he would come to the finish, but in the end, the peloton was stronger.
“We came to the final climb and I was still feeling good. The team did an incredibly good job bringing me to perfect position.
“I'm so happy. It was not a pure sprint because we rode the last two climbs really hard, it was above our threshold, super hard into the final climb, hectic, and I guess I had good legs to push at the end.”
Pogacar was also delighted to take the yellow jersey. “I'm super happy to take the win, and anything else is just a bonus,” he added. “We will think about [the yellow jersey] in the next days.”
Matthews, 31, paid tribute to Pogacar, saying: “All this week so far, he's amazing, what he's doing for himself and for the sport and for the fans, it's amazing to see a guy with such talent use it in a really good way.
“He's won the Tour twice but he's putting on a show for the fans, giving us riders a hard time. It will make it all the more special when I can eventually beat him.”
Neilson Powless, who retained second spot in the general classification after finishing 14th, shared similar sentiments on the young Slovenian.
“It seems like he can do just about everything, it will be interesting to see how he goes in the next two weeks,” the American said.
“Man oh man, Tadej, is probably the strongest guy in the world. The last two days were pretty hectic, everybody was pretty smoked today which I think made the final a bit more wild than it would have been. Everybody on the limit. We’re in the Tour now.”