Arnaud Demare gets a stage win to the delight of French Cycling Fans
Arnaud Demare of Groupama-FDJ comfortably claimed a sprint victory for French cycling fans on the 18th stage
After two grueling days in the Pyrenees, Geraint Thomas was able to enjoy his seventh day in the yellow jersey during the less challenging 171-kilometer (106-mile) leg from Trie-Sur-Baise to Pau that featured only two minor climbs and a flat finish.
Thomas remained 1 minute, 59 seconds ahead of Tom Dumoulin with the Welshman's Sky teammate and four-time champion Chris Froome third, 2:31 behind.
Only two challenging stages remain — a lengthy leg through the Pyrenees on Friday including three major climbs, then a technical individual time trial on Saturday — before the mostly ceremonial finish on the Champs-Elysees in Paris on Sunday.
Demare had time to celebrate as he crossed the line with his arms wide open ahead of fellow Frenchman Christophe Laporte.
Alexander Kristoff of Norway crossed third.
Severl of the tops sprinters had already abandoned, Fernando Gaviria and Dylan Groenewegen — who had each won two stages in this year's race — called it quits during Stage 12 to Alpe d'Huez and so did Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel, who failed to make the time cut.
Demare said he was motivated by an accusation from Andre Greipel, who alleged that Demare held on to his team car on the way up the grueling Col du Portet in Stage 17.
Demare finished Wednesday's stage second to last and narrowly avoided the time cut.
Greipel, who also quit in Stage 12, later apologized on Twitter, saying he had relied on "incorrect" information.
"I want to thank you for this," Demare said. "I thought a lot about Greipel today. It's not in my mindset or my philosophy to cheat. I worked hard in the mountains before the Tour and, as a result, I made it through mountain stages when most of the sprinters did not."
"I'm still here. I did not fight for nothing. It was super important. I'm not the best in the mountains but I did not give up and today it paid off," Demare added.
It was Demare's second career victory in the Tour, having won Stage 4 last year.
Five riders; Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Mathew Hayman (Mitchelton-Scott), Luke Durbridge (Mitchelton-Scott), Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors) and Thomas Boudat (Direct Energie) establishd an early breakaway. The sprinters' teams never let them get much more than two minutes ahead, and they were caught with 16.5 kilometers to go.
There was a minor crash involving airo Quintana and British rider Adam Yates midway through the route. Both riders got back on their bikes and continued without apparent problems.
Tomorrow will be a tougher test for certain, a final day in the mountains featuring the classic Pyrenean climbs Col d'Aspin, Col du Tourmalet and Col d'Aubisque.
VIDEO: 2018 Tour de France Stage 18 Highlights
2018 Tour de France Stage 18 Top 10
1 Arnaud Demare (Fra) Groupama-FDJ 3:46:50
2 Christophe Laporte (Fra) Cofidis, Solutions Credits
3 Alexander Kristoff (Nor) UAE Team Emirates
4 Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Dimension Data
5 Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-Merida
6 Maximiliano Richeze (Arg) Quick-Step Floors
7 John Degenkolb (Ger) Trek-Segafredo
8 Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe
9 Taylor Phinney (USA) EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale
10 Timothy Dupont (Bel) Wanty-Groupe Gobert
2018 Tour de France GC after Stage 18
Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky 74:21:01
Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb +1:59
Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky +2:31
Primoz Roglic (Slo) LottoNL-Jumbo +2:47
Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team +3:30
Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo +4:19
Mikel Landa (Spa) Movistar Team +4:34
Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale +5:13
Daniel Martin (Irl) UAE Team Emirates +6:33
Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team +9:31