Groupama FDJ rider Arnaud Demare won Stage 18 of the 2018 Tour de France, but Team Sky star Geraint Thomas retained the yellow jersey approaching the final three stages of this year’s race.
Demare outsprinted French compatriot Christophe Laporte to finish first in Pau after his FDJ team-mates teed up an opening late in the 171-kilometre flat run from Trie-sur-Baise.
A safe run for Thomas means he kept a lead of one minute, 59 seconds at the top of the general classification, with Team Sky enjoying another relentlessly paced stage.
The riders will return for Stage 19 on Friday, which is the penultimate mountain stage of this year’s Tour and winds along a 200.5-kilometre journey from Lourdes to Laruns featuring two HC climbs.
Demare timed his last burst of energy to perfection and nudged over the line in Pau just ahead of Laporte, with his FDJ team-mates celebrating as their comrade took a second stage win of his career on the Tour.
The official Tour Twitter account posted a classification of Thursday’s top 10 finishers:
It was a climactic finish to an otherwise calm stage of the 2018 Tour, and Demarecollected a stage victory in successive years, having also won Stage 4 of the 2017 edition.
Laporte was left fuming as his countryman beat him to the line in Pau after a bunched sprint finish, despite the fact Demare didn’t appear to have done anything wrong in the final metres of the flat phase.
It was in stark contrast to Demare’s Stage 17 on Wednesday. The 26-year-old was in a race to even make the time cut after being dropped at the 500-metre mark, and he was accused by Lotto-Soudal rider Andre Greipel of holding on to cars for the final climb up Col de Portet, per Henry Robertshaw of Cycling News.
To go from the bottom of the pack to the front in one stage took a team effort as FDJ fired their star to triumph, and Demare was candid in wanting to be forthcoming with Greipelfollowing his tweet, which has since been deleted:
Bora Hansgrohe accelerated with around 10 kilometres remaining, and it looked as though sprint juggernaut Peter Sagan was being prepared for a crack at the top spot.
The green jersey-holder has won more individual stages than any other rider on this year’s Tour (three), but he ultimately finished eighth in the bunch and was showing the signs of wear and tear:
It was a much simpler day in the peloton from Chris Froome of Team Sky, who helped Thomas keep his cushion ahead of Dutchman Tom Dumoulin in the general classification.
That was in comparison to the chaos of Stage 17, where Froome was mistaken for a spectator by a gendarme meant to be protecting riders, via MailOnline Sport:
Froome looked incensed at the time but has since come out to diffuse the situation and put it down to a misunderstanding, per the Telegraph:
“I was the first rider to come down the descent and one of the gendarmes grabbed my arm as I was passing.
“Obviously he thought I was a spectator going down the race route or something so he grabbed me. I was going at some speed so I came obviously, but it was just a misunderstanding.”
Stage 17 winner Nairo Quintana also experienced different fortunes on Thursday and was one of the riders delayed by a small crash with 104 kilometres remaining, as was Mitchelton–Scott star Adam Yates.
The mountains return on Friday as Stage 19 takes riders from Lourdes to Laruns, and the prospect of seeing out this year’s Tour victory with the yellow jersey will begin to feel real for Thomas.