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Tour de France 2018: Thomas wins Stage 11, riding into yellow

Joe Robinson
18 Jul 2018

An explosive final ascent of La Rosiere sees fireworks on GC with Thomas seizing yellow and plenty losing time

Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) triumphed in an explosive first summit finish of the 2018 Tour de France to ride himself into the yellow jersey.

The Welshman caught longtime leader Mikel Nieve (Mitchelton-Scott) in the final few hundred metres, as Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) nicked second place from Chris Froome ahead of the exhausted Spaniard.

An action-packed final climb to La Rosiere saw the group of General Classification riders blown apart by Team Sky's relentless pace in response to earlier attacks from Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Dumoulin. Once Sky's domestiques were exhausted, Thomas attacked across to join Dumoulin, with Froome marshalling the remaining few contenders behind.

Eventually Froome tagged onto Dan Martin (UAE-Team Emirates) before dropping the Irishman with 1km to go while Thomas attacked Dumoulin ahead.

Thomas then caught and passed Nieve to take the second Tour stage of his career, crossing the line 20 seconds ahead of Dumoulin and Froome. Meanwhile, the likes of Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale), Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) and Nairo Quintana (Movistar) rolled in a minute down.

The tale of the stage

Yesterday's stage did not go to script. Well, at least the script I was hoping to see. 

The first day in the mountains saw no real shake up in the General Classification. Riders such as Rafal Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors) lost time but the main hopefuls all finished together over three minutes back on stage winner Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors).

By the day's end, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) had extended his yellow jersey lead, rather than losing it like predicted, while us spectators were left wanting more. Someone attack, someone, anyone.

As for Stage 11, we could remain hopeful for fireworks. At only 108.5km in length, any daring rider could go solo early using the four categorised climbs en-route to their advantage. The end of the day would finish upon La Rosiere, 17.6km at 5.8%.

Movistar were expected to be the day's animators. Their three GC contenders were all sitting pretty on GC but needed to gain time on Froome, Thomas and the Team Sky mountain train.

As soon as the flag dropped in Albertville, attacks began, however not from the GC riders but some of their loyal domestiques. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Warren Barguil (Fortuneo-Samsic) were the first to fly the nest joined by a handful of others.

Sagan sat up after taking the intermediate sprint points as a large group of 40 spread itself across the front of the race as the race climbed the Montee de Bisanne, a tough climb of 12.4km averaging 8.2%.

With 85km to go, the peloton allowed the break some breathing room. The gap crept up to over 5 minutes while two lead groups formed. Some of the notable names ahead were polka dot jersey wearer Alaphilippe, Tejay Van Garderen (BMC Racing) and Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal).

The crest of the first climb for the 22 lead riders came into sight bursting Alaphilippe into life. Overtaking Barguil, the. Frenchman took maximum points to extend his lead. 

Over the top, Alaphilippe was joined by Barguil and De Gendt to form the most formidable trio since the Sugababes. In an instant they had a 45 second gap as they descended towards the Col du Pre.

Meanwhile back in peloton, Team Sky were doing their usual policing, not giving an inch to the likes of Quintana, Nibali and Bardet. No attacking today, at least not this far out. 

Alaphilippe, Barguil and De Gendt would be three of my first picks for a mountain breakaway. All of them have won stages from being out front and all three love to entertain. Barguil was last year's King of the Mountains while Alaphilippe rides off of pure angst and aggression. As for De Gendt, he is the master of these situations.

However, not today, at least not on the Col du Pre. The remnants of the breakaway had clawed them back as Fortuneo-Smasic began to set the pace.

Six minutes behind the leading three, Team Sky had burst momentarily into life stringing the peloton out but this did not last long. The pace was not hard in the peloton. Luke Rowe was still at the head of affairs, and no disrespect to Rowe, but he is not a climbing powerhouse.

As Rowe eventually faded, Movistar took over proceedings to pace that saw Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo) and Rigoberto Uran (EF-Drapac) dropped. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) attacked taking advantage of slowing pace.

It almost looked an act of sacrifice. Giving up any chances he had for the podium in order to force Team Sky to work, making life easier for Quintana and Mikel Landa. 

Fortuneo-Samsic's pace in the break was enough to distance polka dot jersey wearer Alaphilippe, who was still angry. Barguil crested the Pre first and began to push alone. Meanwhile, Valverde had caught Marc Soler who had dropped back from the break. They were joined by Team Sunweb's Soren Kragh Andersen as they pushed across the Barrage de Roseland.

With 47km to go, Valverde had put two minutes into Geraint Thomas and Team Sky almost riding into the virtual yellow jersey. Fast forward seven kilometres and it was time for Bahrain-Merida to put on the pressure. Franco Pellozotti was put to work by Vincenzo Nibali as riders began to struggle with the pace.

Team Sky still had an abundance of riches in the lead group so no concerted attack was made but Bahrain-Merida showed intent.

The 24-year-old Soler was proving his worth by dragging Valverde closer to the summit of the Cormet de Roselend. He was burying himself for the rider 14 years his senior as Movistar chased a potential yellow jersey at the end of the day.

Team Sky took over on the fast descent in chase of Valverde who still an exhausted Soler for company. Damiano Caruso (BMC Racing) was leading the breakaway further down the road with Barguil behind. 

Dumoulin then made a move, taking 10 seconds from the group of GC favourites on the descent of the Cormet de Roseland. Perhaps he was trying to gain a slight advantage before the final climb to La Rosiere.

Team Sky were beginning to peg Valverde back to just 40 seconds as Dumoulin pushed on further eventually catching Valverde on the final climb with teammate Andersen. 

The young Norwegian worked as hard as he could for as long as he could before going pop, leaving Dumoulin and Valverde to ride alone. The latter was paying for his earlier efforts forcing Dumoulin to take the lion's share of the work.

Ahead, Caruso, Barguil, Nieve, Moinard and Valgren were closing in on the final 10km with a stage win beginning to play on their minds. Valgren began to drop leaving just four ahead.

Team Sky began to burn their matches as it was Michal Kwiatkowski's turn to begin reeling back the leaders. This was enough to drop Bob Jungels (Quick-Step Floors) and then Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) who found himself in a spot of trouble off of the back.

Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) was the next rider to feel the pace dropping away from the Team Sky-led peloton as Valverde shot back through the pack after being caught. Dumoulin, however, was increasing his lead.

Next it was Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) who could no longer handle Team Sky's relentless pace although Kwiatkowski looked close to combustion. This pace did put Egan Bernal into bother as he dropped out of the Team Sky train.

As Kwiatkowski popped, Thomas attacked. Nobody set chase immediately until Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) rolled the dice. Froome then countered with Bardet and Quintana the only ones able to react.

With 4km to go, the GC favourites were strung across the mountain with Thomas having the most to gain. 

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