LA MOTTE-SERVOLEX, France — Danish cyclist Jakob Fuglsang won the first mountain stage of the Criterium du Dauphine race in a thrilling finish on Friday, while Australian Richie Porte took the overall lead ahead of archrival Chris Froome with two stages remaining.
Stage six was a 147.5-kilometer (91.5-mile) slog from Le Parc des Oiseaux Villars-les-Dombes. It featured a grueling climb up Mont du Chat near the end, followed by a downhill finish to La Motte-Servolex.
Fuglsang attacked first heading into the last kilometer, but was caught by Porte, Froome and Italian Fabio Aru — who is Fuglsang’s Astana teammate.
In a pulsating charge to the line, Fuglsang held them off for a notable victory given the caliber of the opposition.
“It’s amazing to find yourself in front alongside two favorites for the Tour de France,” the 32-year-old Fuglsang said. “It’s great to win here for the first time.”
Porte finished second, with Froome third ahead of Aru.
“I’d be lying if I said I’m happy with third place. I battled hard for the stage win,” Froome said. “I worked a bit too hard in the last kilometer to chase down Fuglsang, and I started my sprint from way too far out.”
All four got the same time of 3 hours, 41 minutes, 48 seconds.
Spanish rider Alejandro Valverde was dropped on the big climb and finished fifth, 50 seconds behind.
The 32-year-old Porte is 39 seconds ahead of three-time champion Chris Froome — his former right-hand man at Team SKY — and 1:15 clear of Fuglsang in the standings. Despite losing time, Valverde is dangerously poised at 1:20 back in fourth.
Overnight leader Thomas De Gendt of Belgium paid for his lack of climbing ability and dropped down to 30th place, more than eight minutes behind.
Froome, who is the same age as Porte, is looking to win the race for the third straight year and fourth time overall. His first win here came in 2013, the year he went on to win the first of his three Tour titles. He also won the Tour in 2015 and ’16, mirroring his results at the Criterium.
Froome and Porte will battle it out again in the mountains on Saturday, on a famed climb they both know very well.
Stage seven, starting from Aoste, is over 168 kilometers (104 miles) and ends with an ascent of Alpe d’Huez — a climb with huge status on the Tour.
Sunday’s eighth and final stage is another fearsome mountain trek, with three big climbs and ending with an ascent of Plateau de Solaison.
Whoever comes out on top by Sunday will be confident of victory at the Tour, which begins on July 1.
“I’m pretty happy to be at the top with Richie, he’s in unbelievable form. He’s the best climber at the moment,” Froome said. “The Tour de France isn’t too far away now. I still have a bit of work to do, but I’m on the right track.”