Geraint Thomas leads Tour de France but Arnaud Demare wins stage 18

Geraint Thomas still leads the Tour de France after stage 18
Geraint Thomas still leads the Tour de France after stage 18

Geraint Thomas is braced for attacks from his rivals as he faces the final mountain stage of the Tour de France on Friday.

Team Sky's Thomas retained his one minute 59 second advantage over Team Sunweb's Tom Dumoulin on Thursday's flat stage to Pau - won by Frenchman Arnaud Demare - and immediately turned his attention to Stage 19.

An imposing route will take the riders over three-quarters of the so-called 'Circle of Death' as they tackle the Aspin, Tourmalet and Aubisque on a 200km stage from Lourdes to Laruns, and fireworks are expected before Saturday's time trial provides the final sort-out in the general classification.

"We're expecting the worst and hoping for the best," Thomas said. "We're expecting a lot of attacks straight from the gun, to go in the break or maybe on the Tourmalet half-way through and certainly on the last climb.

"It's the last mountain stage and I think guys will try to take any opportunity they can. But in the back of their minds they have still got to have the time trial. They can do a big move and maybe gain two or three minutes and quite easily lose a chunk of time in the time trial."

Thomas will have the rare luxury of having four-time Tour winner Chris Froome ride in his service after his team-mate slipped to third overall on Wednesday, declaring afterwards he is now all-in for Thomas.

"Obviously having 'Froomey' at my disposal so to speak is phenomenal," Thomas said. "But hopefully he won't have to do much. It will be a big test (for me) but I think it's more one for the team to control it most of the day.

"The last climb will be down to the legs. It will be good to just keep doing what we've been doing."

Thomas was speaking at the end of what would have been a welcome flat stage from Trie-sur-Baise, which was uneventful for the majority of its 171 kilometres.

A sprint was always on the cards but the battle for position was wide open given that the field of quick men has been decimated in this race, with Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, Andre Greipel, Dylan Groenewegen, Fernando Gaviria and Michael Matthews all having withdrawn at various points.

In the end, Groupama's FDJ's Demare was able to hold off Christophe Laporte of Cofidis and Alexander Kristoff of UAE Team Emirates to claim his second career Tour win and first this year.

Demare's stage win came on the day that Greipel 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.

It was not clear that apology had been accepted as Demare said he had used Greipel's 'insult' as motivation.

"I was thinking about Greipel," he said. "Obviously that insulted me. I regret that people doubt my performance as I know I'm not the best in the mountains but I work hard to make sure I get through them.

"The best answer I could give to Greipel was to win today."

While several sprinters are already at home, 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.

"I have pain everywhere, but still I am quite happy I can keep racing," Sagan said. "My physical condition is a bit worse than it was, but I took advantage of it to live the race from a different perspective...

"The big goal is to finish the Tour de France, to survive the mountain stage and reach Paris. The time trial on Saturday will be fine. The big challenge is the mountain stage of tomorrow. I'm not afraid of anything. I'm going to suffer a little bit, that's it."

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