Slovenia’s Primoz Roglic on Thursday retained his lead on compatriot Tadej Pogacar atop the Tour de France standings after stage 18, as British team Ineos Grenadiers claimed a one-two finish.
After Ineos withdrew team leader Egan Bernal on Wednesday, Michal Kwiatkowski won the stage and his teammate Richard Carapaz took the King of the Mountains jersey after the pair crossed the finish line two minutes ahead of the peloton.
“I had the best legs ever, the way we rode together with Richard was just incredible,” Polish rider Kwiatkowski said. “When Egan left the race he was very sad, but wished us well, and now we have this wonderful day. That’s the Tour de France.”
Giro d’Italia champion Carapaz has been a revelation over the three Alpine stages that culminated with the Ineos-led escape, as the Ecuadoran relentlessly attacked, picking up climbing points to take the polka dot jersey.
Although Carapaz is just two points ahead of the 21-year-old Pogacar in the mountains classification, with the form he is showing he could hold on to the jersey all the way to Paris.
“We will do everything we can, we have much to think about,” Carapaz said after the double act saved face for the British team, who won the previous five editions.
Carapaz must now better the Slovenian over one remaining small climb and today’s time trial featuring the Planches des Belles Filles, adding further drama and a possible twist to a lively Tour de France finale.
Carapaz was drafted into the race at the last minute. He fell on the first stage in a deluge in Nice and is only now finding his form.
Carapaz and Kwiatkowski were clearly brimming with joy over the fruits of their partnership, which will have brought some relief for Ineos team principal Dave Brailsford.
“Adapting quickly to change is one of the main keys of success,” Brailsford said ahead of the Tour.
“We worked so hard since we changed our objectives,” Kwiatkowski said, fighting back tears.
In the race for the yellow jersey, only today’s individual time trial presents a chance for second-placed Pogacar to stage a coup.
Roglic leads Pogacar by 57 seconds, with yesterday’s stage 19 and the culminating run up the Champs-Elysees tomorrow both set to be decided in a mass bunch sprint.
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