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Tour de France 2018: Demare wins sprint into Pau, Thomas stays in yellow

Joe Robinson
26 Jul 2018

A fast and flat day sees Frenchman beat compatriot Laporte into Pau

Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) won Stage 18 of the Tour de France in a fast sprint finish into Pau. Christophe Laporte (Cofidis) was second with Alexander Kristoff (UAE-Team Emirates) a distant third.

Groupama-FDJ set a high pace into the final kilometre, and was rewarded when Demare withstood Laporte's late challenge. The victory was the first for a French team in this year's race, although not for a French rider thanks to Julian Alaphilippe's pair of stage wins for Belgian team Quick-Step Floors.

The stage was fast throughout, with the day's five-man breakaway – which included Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step) and Matthew Hayman (Mitchelton-Scott) – never allowed to open the gap beyond 90 seconds.

In what was a stress-free stage for the general classification riders, there was no change to the overall standings. Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) still leads Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) by 1'59", with teammate Chris Froome third at 2'31". Just three stages of the race now remain – the final mountain stage tomorrow, a 31km time-trial on Saturday, and the typically processional stage into Paris on Sunday.

The tale of the stage

You could go as far as calling Stage 18 of the Tour from Trie-sur-Baise to Pau a rest day for the general classification riders given the largely flat 171km of riding involved, which featured with just two category four climbs, the Cote de Madiran and Cote d'Anos. 

Of course, no day is truly stress-free at the Tour but it was a far cry from the excitement of the previous two stages in the Pyrenees, and yesterday's in particular, which saw the riders tackling three mountains in just 65km.

That stage eventually went to the Condor of the Andes, Nairo Quintana (Movistar), who attacked at the base of the final climb, the Col du Portet, and was never seen again with Dan Martin (UAE-Team Emirates) rolling in second.

Thomas's third place saw him extend his advantage over his closest GC rivals, and teammate Froome in particular. The four-time Tour champion cracked in the final kilometres of the stage, conceding time and his role as Team Sky team leader. The Tour is now Thomas's to lose. 

Starting in Trie-sur-Baise, the peloton would be finishing in Pau, which stands behind only Bordeaux and Paris itself in the list of most used locations for a stage finish – today was its 69th appearance in the role. 

Talking of milestones, today was also French veteran Sylvain Chavanel's 365th Tour de France stage in his long career. Yet despite an entire year's worth of racing in the Grande Boucle, in which he has featured in the break on plenty of stages just like this one, Chavanel missed out when the day' main breakaway went away on 48.8km after a breathless first hour of racing.

Instead, it comprised five men that are more commonly associated with the cobbles of northern Europe in Spring: Hayman and Luke Durbridge (Mitchelton-Scott), Thomas Boudat (Direct Energie), Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) and Terpstra. 

The peloton, aware that this was a group of riders strong enough to defend even a moderate lead all the way into Pau – especially with so few sprinters left in the race for the peloton to work for – held the gap around 90 seconds, riding hard to keep the five leaders within range.

The high pace could well have contributed to yesterday's winner Quintana coming down in a crash. The Movistar hit the deck hard, ripping his jersey. He was forced into a bike change and a chase, shepherded by teammates, as he fought to get back onto the peloton, which did slow a little to help him get back in.

That aside, the complexion of the stage remained largely static as the kilometres ticked by: five men out front, followed around a minute and a half later by the main field. UAE-Team Emirates were on the front of the peloton, working for European champion Alexander Kristoff, one of the few sprinters left in the race. The Norwegian no doubt fancied his changes having seen Peter Sagan's high speed crash yesterday.

The break were being hung out to dry, but with 23km to go the time gap remained at 46 seconds. The race hit the final climb of the day, the Cote d'Anos, at an incredible speed. Still the break fought to hold on, but at the crest of the climb the race was back together, only for another attack featuring Mitchelton-Scott riders and even Dan Martin (UAE-Team Emirates) to try their luck.

Unfortunately the presence of Martin saw the break shut down quickly by Team Sky. Their GC interests now defended, Team Sky gave up the lead of the peloton with Groupama-FDJ taking charge in aid of Demare, a rider desperate for victory.

Surprisingly, Bora-Hansgrohe were also assisting in the pacemaking despite Sagan still being sore from yesterday's fall. This pace caused the peloton to string out with some struglling to stay attached at the back.

Leading into the final, Bora-Hansgrohe and Groupama-FDJ were locked in a straight drag race for Sagan and Demare but could either of them finishing it off.

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