Arnaud Demare finally has his first stage win of the 2018 Tour de France. The Groupama-FDJ sprinter got the better of Christophe Laporte of Cofidis and Alexander Kristoff of UAE Team Emirates in the sprinters’ final opportunity for glory before Paris.
Just three stages remain in the 2018 Tour de France after today, with one final mountain stage, an individual time trial and the culmination on the Champs-Elysees in Paris. For the sprinters it’s been a tale of large disappointment for almost everyone, with only three riders gaining any stage accolades before today. Fernando Gaviria had taken two stages, Peter Sagan had three, and Dylan Groenewegen had a double; although Sagan was the only rider still left in the Tour. Many of the Tour’s biggest names in fast finishes were out of the race including Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel and Andre Greipel; and with Gaviria and Groenewegen also gone of all the areas in this year’s Tour it was the sprint area that had suffered most in the Tour.
Mitchelton-Scott light up breakaway
Trie-sur-Baïse to Pau was the final sprinters’ paradise before Paris. Just two category 4 climbs featured before the flat run in to Pau, and for the non-climbing breakaway riders it was their last opportunity to try something before the Champs-Elysees; so the intensity was on from the start. A group containing Thomas Boudat of Direct Energie, Niki Terpstra of Quick-Step Floors, Matt Hayman and Luke Durbridge of Mitchelton Scott; and Guillaume van Keirsbulck of Wanty-Groupe Gobert took off up the road; but it took a big chunk of the race before they were finally given the go ahead by the peloton.
Attacks and counter attacks littered the early stages, keeping the break’s lead to within 20 seconds for much of the early kilometres before finally the intensity relented in the peloton; and as UAE Team Emirates and Groupama-FDJ took the lead in the pack, the break’s advantage went up to 1.30mins with 50 of the 171km covered.
It was interesting that the break weren’t allowed any more of a lead, a definite statement of intent from the sprint teams of UAE Team Emirates for Alexander Kristoff and Groupama-FDJ for Demare. With 105km to go Sep Vanmarcke of EF Education First-Drapac, Michael Gogl and Jasper Stuyven of Trek-Segafredo attacked the bunch to try and get across to the peloton, while at the back of the race a crash brought down a number of riders. Adam Yates, Nairo Quintana, Lukas Postlberger, Heinrich Haussler and Andrey Amador were among those to go down.
The new dynamic in the race with the chase trio meant that the intensity had once again climbed to bring the break back to within a minute prior to the intermediate sprint. Nairo Quintana found himself 40 seconds or so adrift of the peloton but he had little trouble in bridging the gap as the pace went out of the peloton after the intermediate sprint was contested.
Jack Bauer attacks as sprinters warm up
After the intermediate sprint the breakaway found that the bunch were far more willing to allow them a bit of room for manoeuvre, building a lead that peaked at the 2 minute mark. That was still a relatively small margin and it would prove to be the only room that the bunch would allow. Behind them Vanmarcke, Gogl and Stuyven’s move came to naught and they were swept up.
Team Sky were ever present towards the front of the race, so too UAE Team Emirates, LottoNL-Jumbo and Movistar as UAE Team Emirates Cofidis and Groupama-FDJ shared control of the very front of the race. At 41km to go the break’s lead dipped below the minute mark in what was already looking a foregone conclusion for them. After briefly taking their foot off the gas so as not to catch the break too soon, the gap once again dropped down to 40 seconds with 29km to go. Back in the peloton an incident occurred, featuring a rider from Wanty-Groupe Gobert throwing a bottle at Nicolas Edet of Cofidis who had stopped to look after teammate Christophe Laporte.
The intensity was on from the bunch as the breakaway also dup deep to enjoy their stay at the head of the race for as long as possible. At 21km to go the gap was just 30 seconds. The leaders would survive the Côte d’Anos before the catch was made, while behind the break an attack went clear from the bunch that forced Team Sky to chase. In the group was Simon Clarke of EF Education First-Drapac and Jack Bauer of Mitchelton-Scott; adding a third rider from the team in the lead along with Dan Martin of UAE Team Emirates.
It would be very difficult to get any kind of significant advantage over the peloton, especially with Groupama-FDJ putting three riders in the move just to police matters rather than contribute. Bauer hit the front, but seeing the unwillingness to work behind him, he and the break sat up and everything was back together with 16.4km left to race.
Tom Scully shows strength in closing stages
Groupama-FDJ led the way towards the final kilometres; controlling matters perfectly in the run in to the sprint. The challenges for prominence came from BORA-Hansgrohe, though, with just over 10km to go. Peter Sagan had suffered a nasty crash the previous day and doubts surrounded whether he’d even start the stage; but start he would and contest the win he would too.
The maillot jaune of Geraint Thomas and the maillot vert of Peter Sagan were both positioned perfectly to be out of trouble at the very front of the race as BORA-Hansgrohe really started to assert themselves on the front. At 5km to go Team Sky, Groupama-FDJ and EF Education First-Drapac all challenged for the front, but it was still BORA-Hansgrohe leading the charge at speeds tipping 55kph. Tom Scully was right in the mix with 3km to go, taking his place in the EF Education First-Drapac team towards the finish.
At just under 2km to go UAE Team Emirates took over to support Alexander Kristoff, but it looked like Kristoff might be too near the front too soon. Tom Scully led the field through the 1km to go banner with Cofidis on his wheel. With 700m to go Trek-Segafredo had the lead but Christophe Laporte was perfectly positioned, until Arnaud Demare and Jacopo Guarnieri of Groupama-FDJ came through and Demare launched his kick for the line with 200m to go.
Despite a subtle deviation from his line, Demare didn’t impede Laporte significantly enough and Laporte was just too slow; taking runner-up spot in a French 1-2. Kristoff led a Norwegian 3-4 ahead of Edvald Boasson Hagen of Dimension Data with Sonny Colbrelli fifth, Ariel Richeze sixth, John Degenkolb 7th and Peter Sagan 8th.
Jack Bauer and Dion Smith fiished safely in the peloton, with Tom Scully – after his big effort in the closing kilometres – finishing at a minute behind Demare.