Sat, Jul 28, 2018 - Page 16 News List

Demare wins stage, Thomas keeps lead

‘INSULTING’:The Frenchman used an accusation by sprinter Andre Greipel that he held on to a car to finish an earlier mountain stage as motivation for the victory

AFP, PAU, France

Groupama-FDJ’s Arnaud Demare, center, crosses the finish line to win the 18th stage of the Tour de France ahead of Cofidis Solutions Credits’ Christophe Laporte in Pau, France, on Thursday.

Photo: Reuters

Frenchman Arnaud Demare on Thursday silenced his critics with a superb sprint finish that grabbed him victory over compatriot Christophe Laporte in the 18th stage of the Tour de France.

Britain’s Geraint Thomas finished close behind to tighten his grip on the yellow jersey three days before the 21st and final stage in Paris.

The Welshman held a 1 minute, 59 second lead on Dutch rival Tom Dumoulin of Team Sunweb, with Team Sky teammate and four-time champion Chris Froome in third 2 minutes, 31 seconds behind heading into yesterday’s 19th stage.

“I think we’re expecting the worst, hoping for the best,” said Thomas, who is expecting attacks from his rivals on the final day in the mountains yesterday.

Froome is expected to come under attack by Primoz Roglic, as the Slovenian, in fourth 16 seconds behind Froome, targets a podium place in Paris.

“I think guys will try to take any opportunity they can. It will be interesting, but we’ve been riding really well all race,” Thomas added.

What was the penultimate chance for a diminished sprint field to snatch some glory was not going to be missed by the fast men of the peloton.

One day after Slovakian sprint king Peter Sagan sustained injuries in a crash that almost ended his campaign, Demare capitalized.

His Groupama-FDJ team worked hard, first in easily chasing down an early five-man breakaway and particularly in the final, technical kilometers of the stage to make sure Demare was primed for a final burst to the line.

However, the Frenchman, who angered Laporte by veering from his line when he sprinted from just inside 200m, was also inspired by comments aimed at him by Germany’s Andre Greipel.

Greipel, one of several sprinters to pull out in the Alps, while others, like Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel, missed the time cut, accused Demare of holding on to a car to make it through the mountains on stage 17.

“The best answer I could give Andre Greipel was to win today,” said Demare, who faced similar accusations on his way to victory in Milan-San Remo in 2016.

“Obviously what he said hurt me, and was also insulting. It’s regrettable that people doubt my performances,” he said. “I know I’m not the best in the mountains, but I work hard to make sure I get through them.”

Bora-Hansgrohe rider Sagan is mathematically assured of his sixth green jersey for the points competition, but having won three stages already admitted that he was lucky to still be in the race.

“I can’t complain, I could be worse,” Sagan said.

“I was in a lot of pain. Tomorrow will be much harder, but I consider myself lucky that, after such a crash, I’m still in the race and not sitting at home,” he said. “But it was my own mistake yesterday. There was no motorbike in front of me. I flew into the forest, like a bird.”

Colombian Nairo Quintana of Movistar Team and Briton Adam Yates were among several riders caught up in a crash on Thursday, although both got back on their bikes to finish the stage.

“It was a stupid fall,” said Quintana, who claimed an impressive solo win on the summit of the Col du Portet on Wednesday that took him to fifth overall at 3 minutes, 30 seconds behind Thomas.

“I hurt my ankle and my shoulder, but I hope it’s nothing. Tomorrow we’ll be ready for the stage,” he said.

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