Chris Froome was denied a happy ending with his famous comeback at the legendary Alpe d’Huez, the spectacle of the favorites around leader Jonas Vingegaard did not materialize in the blazing hot cycling Mecca. On the queen stage of the 109th Tour de France, the young Dane successfully defended his yellow jersey on Thursday, parrying all attacks by defending champion Tadej Pogacar. At the end of the 21 most famous hairpin bends in the world, Briton Thomas Pidcock triumphed ahead of South African Louis Meintjes and Froome. Simon Geschke once again successfully defended his mountain jersey.

On the legendary 13.8-kilometer final climb, Pogacar only appeared twice, while Vingegaard followed almost effortlessly each time. The 25-year-old saved himself a counterattack. Temperatures of up to 37 degrees and the 4650 vertical meters of the stage over three difficult climbs of the highest category had cost enough energy. In the overall standings, Vingegaard is 2:22 ahead of Pogacar and 2:26 ahead of Welshman Geraint Thomas. Surprisingly, Geschke is still the leader in the mountains classification.

Not only solo winner Pidcock caused a stir, but above all Froome. More than three years after his serious fall on the Tour of Dauphiné, the 37-year-old showed his best performance since and impressed as part of a breakaway group. “I still think I have a great accomplishment in me,” Froome said before the tour. On the French national holiday, the Briton delivered and finished 2:06 minutes behind Pidcock.

Pogacar had a constructive visit after the biggest defeat of his career at the Col du Granon on Wednesday evening. “I saw my girlfriend, that gave me strength,” said the 23-year-old before the start in Briançon, radiating great confidence. “I’m ready to fight. I slept well and will attack.”

In the morning, however, Pogacar had to accept the next corona-related setback. Matxin Fernandez, Team UAE’s sporting director, said he had tested positive for the coronavirus. Drivers George Bennett and Vegard Stake Laengen had previously had to leave the tour due to an infection.

Pogacar’s most important helper Rafal Majka, on the other hand, was allowed to stay in the race. The Pole benefits from a new rule that allows an asymptomatic and non-contagious rider to continue on the Tour despite a positive test.

After the spectacular stage to the Col du Granon, the most difficult part of the tour began relatively calmly. A group of six riders got up early, joined by others like four-time Tour winner Froome at the Col du Galibier. Despite the national holiday, only one Frenchman was among the escapees. Simon Geschke also tried an attack, but was unsuccessful. The Berliner remained without points at the 2642 high pass, the highest point of this year’s tour.

In the field, Vingegaard’s team Jumbo-Visma easily controlled the pace. Anyone who had expected an early attack from the dethroned leader Pogacar was disappointed. In view of Jumbo’s strength, it would have been quite a daring undertaking for the Slovenian. Instead, Pogacar conserved his strength, hiding in his best young professional’s white jersey. Also on the Col de la Croix de Fer, the second of three mountains in the highest category, things stayed quiet with the favorites, so that the big show only started on the way to the Alpe d’Huez.

After the two massively difficult high mountain stages, the riders can relax a little on Friday. Over 192.6 kilometers from Le Bourg d’Oisans to Saint-Etienne, only two mountains of the third category and one of the second category await. It offers the sprinters one of the few chances of a mass finish. But the sprinter teams would have to work for that, because breakaways could hope for a stage victory. Like in 2019, when the Belgian Thomas De Gendt triumphed single-handedly in Saint-Etienne.