UAE Team Emirates star Tadej Pogacar faced his first real test of this year's Tour de France during the ascent of Mont Ventoux on Wednesday, but the Slovenian still managed to extend his lead after Stage 11.
AT one point, Pogacar had been left behind by Jumbo-Visma's Jonas Vingegaard late on the final climb, showing his first signs of weakness but with Ben O'Connor out of contention for second in overall standings, the Slovenian has improved his advantage in the race.
Vingegaard attacked from a much-reduced group of favourites with around two kilometres of the climb left.
Pogacar immediately followed but soon dropped back. Vingegaard had opened up a 40-second gap before eventually being caught by Pogacar, Colombia's Rigoberto Uran and Ecuador's Richard Carapaz in the long descent to the finish.
Uran moved up to second, still a massive 5mins 18secs behind Pogacar in general classification. Vingegaard is in third, a further 14 seconds back.
“I couldn't follow him, the heat, Ineos, there was a lot going on,” said Pogacar at the finish line.
Up front, Belgium's Wout van Aert claimed a solo win in the stage, a 198.9km trek from Sorgues. Van Aert, a three-time world cyclo-cross champion, can now add a major mountain stage of the Tour to his list of achievements.
“I'm lost for words,” the 26-year-old said. “It's stupid to say of course but I did not expect to win this stage before the Tour [started]. Actually yesterday I was already believing it and I asked the team to be the guy who went for the breakaway.
“It's one of the most iconic climbs in the Tour, in the world of cycling and it's maybe my best victory ever.
“Of course it's emotional. Personally for me it was hard for me to come into this Tour at the proper level and in the first week we had so much bad luck with the team, and even today we lost Tony Martin in a crash, so this is nice.
“If you keep being motivated, keep believing, some day it will work out and I'm really proud.”