Vingegaard, a champion sportsman on Tour

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Jonas Vingegaard has proved himself the Tour de France champion in waiting - and also a sportsman of the highest order - after finally putting paid to the challenge of Tadej Pogacar on an astonishing final mountain stage.

Vingegaard stamped his authority in yellow on the race with a glorious victory in the 18th stage over 143.2km from Lourdes up to Hautacam on Thursday - but the race will be go down in Tour annals for an earlier moment of true sportsmanship from the Danish leader.

Reigning champion Pogacar was attacking with his last desperate bids to regain the overall lead but while risking everything when leading Vingegaard on a descent on the Col de Spandelles, he took a spill.

Yet Vingegaard waited for the Slovenian to remount and get back onto his wheel, with Pogacar offering his hand in a touching moment of thanks for the remarkable gesture as he rejoined him.

"I think (Pogacar) missed a corner and then he went into some gravel, he tried to steer it out and the bike disappeared under him. Then I waited for him," shrugged Vingegaard.

But though Pogacar had been given this reprieve, when the race came to the final 4km of the famed Hautacam climb, it was Vingegaard, helped by another amazing turn from his Jumbo-Visma teammate Wout van Aert, who proved simply too strong.

The Dane ended up powering away to win by one minute, four seconds from Pogacar for his second stage win this year.

He now leads by more 3:26, and is effectively guaranteed a maiden grand tour triumph, barring accidents, with Saturday's 41km time trial the only realistic chance for Pogacar to eat significantly into the gap.

Not that Vingegaard, runner-up last year, is taking anything for granted. With three stages left, he refused to talk about winning the title.

With 28km left, Thursday's race witnessed moments which will go down in Tour folklore.

Pogacar was putting Vingegaard under massive pressure on the Spandelles descent, with the Dane almost losing control on a left-hand turn, having to pull one foot out of his pedal before rebalancing.

But a few corners later, Pogacar ran wide, off the tarmac, and slid off his bike into the gravel.

Vingegaard could have pushed on but opted not to, prompting Pogacar to offer what looked like a final hand of grateful concession to the better rider this past two-and-a-half-weeks.

"I have nothing but respect to Jonas Vingegaard. It was fine for him to wait. It's me who wanted to go fast on the descent, but I pushed it too far and crashed - can't blame anyone for that," said Pogacar.

"There couldn't be a better way to lose the Tour de France than this. I gave it all today thinking of the GC. I will leave the race with no regrets..."

Yet while Vingegaard's been untouchable, so has his amazing teammate van Aert, the points leader who, it seems, can do everything.

The surefire green jersey winner pushed forward as part of the day's early breakaway and then held back to help deliver the final devastating push from the front that enabled Vingegaard to finally crack Pogacar.

Australian sprint star Caleb Ewan, currently 140th and last in the standings, got inside the time limit for the stage so he'll be sure to have a crack at winning the final stage in Paris on Sunday.

Team BikeExchange-Jayco's Nick Schultz is the top Australian in the field, now 24th, over an hour and a half behind Vingegaard.

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