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Asgreen hails escape quartet as Tour de France sprinters miss a beat

Dane Kasper Asgreen won stage 18 of the Tour de France on Thursday as a long range escape edged a fast-closing peloton to the line at Bourg-en-Bresse.

Another Dane, Jonas Vingegaard, retained his 7min 35sec lead atop the overall standings.

As the Tour returned to flat terrain, three members of a four-man escape group crossed the line just metres ahead of the elite sprinters.

Dutchman Pascal Eenkhoorn of Lotto-Dstny was second and Norwegian Jonas Abrahamsen of Uno-X was third.

Their escape companion Belgian Victor Campenaerts, who had ridden hard to give team-mate Eenkhoorn a winning chance, was engulfed by the peloton at the line  to show what a close call it was after a 20km chase fell short.

Asgreen, a 28-year-old, dedicated the victory to his escape partners after they combined in an alliance of fortune that delivered the win for only one of them.

“We raced the end like a team time-trial,” said Asgreen, part of the Danish team time-trial world champions of 2018.

“We realised that if we all committed we could pull it off,” he said.

“I couldn’t have done it without the others. Even a small group can manage to cheat the sprinters,” said Asgreen, who broke away to win the Tour of Flanders in 2021.

The victory was the first for his Soudal-Quick-Stepteam on this Tour. The Belgian outfit have enjoyed years of dominance with riders such as Julian Alaphilippe and Mark Cavendish.

“I’m really happy we won’t be leaving the Tour without a win,” he said

Vingegaard congratulated his countryman.

“I wouldn’t call that an easy day, the legs were alright but you saw how the sprinters went for it,” said the defending champion.

“I’m very happy to see Kasper winning again. We speak every day during the stage as do all the Danes. It’s nice to have countrymen around.

Pogacar feeling better

Current second placed rider Tadej Pogacar seemed to have digested his crushing defeat from yesterday.

“I think the whole peloton came to see me to try and cheer me up today, so I’m feeling much better,” said Pogacar.

At the end of the previous day’s stage, the two-time champion sat gazing at the ground after losing six minutes and any realistic hopes of winning the Tour.

“Also looking back all those fans on the mountain encouraging me really meant something to me, because I wasn’t winning.”

The winner of all four previous sprints on this Tour, Belgian Alpecin rider Jasper Philipsen, was fourth on the day.

Organisers were keen to offer the sprinters a flat run here after four Alpine tests, even taking a tunnel through a mountain rather than climbing over it.

Philipsen has dominated the bunch sprints on this Tour although two of his four triumphs were garnered with some wobbly manoeuvres that had to be validated by race officials.