Geraint Thomas stayed safe in the yellow jersey as Frenchman Arnaud Demare won stage 18 of the Tour de France in Pau.
Groupama-FDJ’s Demare held off Christophe Laporte of Cofidis and Alexander Kristoff of UAE Team Emirates in a sprint finish to claim his second career Tour win and his first this year.
Team Sky’s Thomas crossed the line with the front group to ensure he holds on to his advantage of one minute and 59 seconds over Tom Dumoulin of Team Sunweb going into today’s mountain test in the Pyrenees.
Demare’s stage win came on the day that German sprinter Andre Greipel, already out of this year’s Tour, apologised to him on Twitter after suggesting in an earlier post that Demare had used illegitimate means in order to avoid missing the time cut when struggling on the Col du Portet on Wednesday. Despite Greipel’s apology, Demare said he had used his comments as motivation.
“I can thank Greipel,” he said. “I thought of him a lot.”
Yesterday morning, Greipel wrote: “My apology go out to @ArnaudDemare and @GroupamaFDJ as I have had not the right to make that tweet based on GPS time, which can be wrong, plus I got the incorrect times he lost on the last hill. I’m sorry. Lesson learned: don’t tweet about sth you are not part off.”
The first sprint stage since last Friday was contested by a vastly depleted field of quick men following the exits of Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, Andre Greipel, Fernando Gaviria, Dylan Groenewegen and Michael Matthew at various points in the Tour so far.
World champion Peter Sagan was also not the factor he might usually be after suffering a nasty crash on Wednesday’s stage.
The Bora-Hansgrohe rider hobbled on to his bike in the morning, but had put his team on the front in the final few kilometres before eventually finishing eighth.
Sagan needs simply to make it to Paris to secure his sixth career green jersey.
After the drama of the past two days in the mountains this was a largely uneventful stage, no doubt welcome to those still with an eye on the fight for yellow.
Wednesday’s stage winner Nairo Quintana of Movistar was caught in a crash along with Mitchelton-Scott’s Adam Yates with 105km to go, but they were soon back on their bikes.