Vingegaard Pogacar [600x400]
Vingegaard Pogacar [600x400] (Credit: AP)

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LE LIORAN, France -- Just three months ago, Jonas Vingegaard was lying in a hospital bed with broken ribs and a collapsed lung. On Wednesday, he beat his rival Tadej Pogacar in a two-man sprint after a brutal day in the mountains.

Pogacar, the Tour leader, kept the yellow jersey but it was the two-time defending champion who earned a psychological victory at the end of an epic battle in the Massif Central.

The pair left all their rivals in their wake and Vingegaard, after closing a big gap to Pogacar in a brutal climb, outsprinted his rival to finish half a wheel ahead for the stage win.

"It is of course very emotional for me. Coming back from the crash," Vingegaard said, trying to hold back tears. "It means a lot. All the things I went through in the last three months, it makes you think of that."

Vingegaard was hospitalized for nearly two weeks in April following a high-speed crash in the Tour of the Basque Country.

He only resumed competitive racing at the Tour and there were many question marks about his form. His tremendous ride Wednesday showed he is more than ready to defend his title.

"I'm just happy to be here and it means so much to win a stage, especially to win it for my family. They were there supporting me the whole time," Vingegaard said.

True to his habit of attacking every time he gets the chance, Pogacar tried to move away alone about 32 kilometers from the finish with a strong attack. After getting dropped, Vingegaard kept his head cool and proved to be the fastest in the next ascent to catch his rival.

Vingegaard said he thought he would not be able to bridge the gap opened by Pogacar, and was also surprised he could beat him in the sprint.

"I would never have thought this three months ago. I was only thinking about doing my own pace and then the sprint."

The pair then stayed together to gain time on Remco Evenepoel and Primoz Roglic, who crashed near the finish. Evenepoel reached the finish 25 seconds behind, with Roglic 55 seconds off the pace.

Evenepoel trails 1:06 behind Pogacar overall, with Vingegaard in third place, 1:14 back. Roglic is fourth, 2:45 behind the race leader.

The rollercoaster 211-kilometer (131-mile) Stage 11 featured four brutal ascents in its second half and included more than 4,000 meters of climbing.

The race started at a high pace and the peloton stayed together for some 40 kilometers before riders could break away in humid conditions. A group of 10 men rode at the front but split at the foot of the first major climb, the steep Col de Neronne.

Pogacar's Team Emirates set a fast tempo but they were caught one by one one as they rode up to the Puy Mary, the hardest climb of the day.

Pogacar, a two-time Tour champion, attacked 600 meters from that summit to drop everyone else then went all in on the downhill, showcasing his great skills in the technical descent to increase his lead and start the next climb with a lead of 35 seconds. But Vingegaard still had the final word.

"He is in top shape," Pogacar said about his rival. "He beat me really good on the line, and I did a pretty good sprint after that kind of stage. He was really strong."

Thursday's Stage 12 from Aurillac to Villeneuve-sur-Lot is mainly flat. The battle between Pogacar and Vingegaard is expected to resume this weekend when the peloton will reach bigger mountains in the Pyrenees.