LE GRAND COLOMBIER, France -- Former world champion Michal Kwiatkowski soloed to the top of the Grand Colombier mountain in the Tour de France on Friday, while Tadej Pogacar cut a little more time off Jonas Vingegaard's overall lead in the fight for the yellow jersey.
Kwiatkowski, a seasoned veteran with the Ineos Grenadiers team, was part of an early breakaway and went solo about 11 kilometers from the daunting mountaintop finish in Stage 13 to claim his second career Tour stage win.
"It was a crazy experience," Kwiatkowski said. "When I entered the breakaway, I thought this is just a free ticket to maybe the bottom of the climb."
Vingegaard and Pogacar watched each other closely. Well shepherded by his UAE Team Emirates teammates, Pogacar did not attack before the last 500 meters of the 17.4-kilometer-long ascent, yet managed to gain some precious time.
Pogacar crossed the line in third position behind Kwiatkowski and Maxim Van Gils, four seconds ahead of Vingegaard. He was awarded a time bonus of four seconds for his third-place finish to cut Vingegaard's overall lead to just nine seconds ahead of two big mountain stages scheduled in the Alps over the weekend before Monday's second rest day.
"Even if we didn't get the stage win, it was still a victory in the battle for the yellow jersey," said Pogacar, a two-time Tour de France champion from Slovenia.
"The Tour is still long and we are in a good situation. We are looking at this kind of opportunities to take back some seconds. It was a really good team performance. Everybody can take a lot of confidence and motivation from today."
Jai Hindley remained third overall, 2 minutes, 51 seconds behind Vingegaard.
Since he lost more than one minute on the Col de Marie Blanque during Stage 5, Pogacar has been on the offensive to put himself back in contention for a third Tour win. Pogacar, who was dethroned by Vingegaard last summer, claimed a 10th career stage after dropping the reigning champion in the Pyrenees then had the upper hand in the Puy de Dome climb.
Vingegaard said he was not "frustrated at all," and glad to have successfully defended the yellow jersey.
"Our plan was to let the breakaway win the stage and that's what happened," Vingegaard said. "Today's stage didn't suit me really with this final climb only, so I'm happy to have limited the losses. I'm not anxious."
Friday's first attack took place immediately after the start of the 138-kilometer (86-mile) trek, with a pair of Lotto-Dstny riders trying to jump out of the pack. The peloton quickly reeled them in.
There were more unsuccessful moves until a group of 19 riders including Kwiatkowski managed a break on the flat roads leading to the mid-stage intermediate sprint.
They were kept on a tight leash by the big teams, with Pogacar's teammates riding at the front. Sprinter Caleb Ewan, a five-time stage winner at the Tour, struggled at the back and abandoned.
The leading group worked well together, though, and 16 men managed to reach the foot of the Grand Colombier with a decent gap of less than four minutes to the bunch.
"They just let too many guys in the front and I just found probably the best legs I ever had in my life," said Kwiatkowski, a two-time winner of the one-day classic Amstel Gold Race and the 2017 winner of Milan San Remo.
Spurred on by hordes of fans overexcited on Bastille Day, Frenchman Quentin Pacher tried to go solo with 16 kilometers left. Behind, UAE Team Emirates set the tempo amid flares lit by supporters.
Pacher was caught by three rivals -- Van Gils, Harold Tejada and James Shaw -- and was immediately dropped, with riders scattered across the winding road to the top.
Kwiatkowski lost some ground at the start of the climb and hit back to catch the leading trio then attacked on a bend to go solo. Nobody could follow.
"I didn't believe that was possible, but here I am," said Kwiatkowski, who earlier in his career largely contributed to the Tour victories of Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas.
The peloton will reach the Alps on Saturday during Stage 14 to the ski station of Morzine Les Portes du Soleil that will climax with the ascent of the Col de Joux Plane.