Alexander Kristoff of UAE Team Emirates has won the final stage of the Tour de France 2018. The Norwegian took his team’s second stage win of the Tour ahead of John Degenkolb and Arnaud Demare. Geraint Thomas finished safely out of trouble to secure his first Tour de France triumph ahead of Tom Dumoulin and Chris Froome.
Houilles to the Champs-Elysees presented the riders with the final challenge of this year’s Tour de France. The 116km of racing took in 8 laps of the most famous streets in cycling. Being the final stage of the race, the peloton were exceptionally relaxed in the early stages. Team Sky were once again enjoying the accolades of overall victory, with the team dressed in special yellow tinted shorts, jerseys and helmet; and with Geraint Thomas in the maillot jaune complete with yellow bike. Champagne glasses were enjoyed and there was plenty of posing for photos as is customary on the final day. And for the first time in Tour de France history the Welsh flag was seen being flown by the winner of the Tour.
Chavanel leads the way to final battleground
Racing was expected to begin in earnest with some 54.5km left as the riders reached the Champs Elysees. However, how the final stage would play out was a matter of extreme interest, as with many of the major sprint teams now without their sprinters – and even Peter Sagan’s condition very unknown because of his injuries – a breakaway stood arguably the highest chance of victory in years.
Team Sky led the peloton towards the Champs-Elysees but out of respect for Sylvain Chavanel, the rider with the most Tours de France to his name, the Frenchman was permitted the honour of arriving at the Arc de Triomphe first in a ‘solo breakaway’ which saw him gain some 20 seconds over the peloton. Finally, though, racing began in earnest and with 54km to go Chavanel was brought back and racing kicked off, with Lawson Craddock of EF Education First-Drapac making the first earnest attack of the race.
Direct Energie, Fortuneo-Samsic, AG2R La Mondiale and Cofidis were all involved in the early moves with Sylvain Dillier of AG2R, Taylor Phinney of EF Education First-Drapac and Damien Gaudin of Direct Energie. They were joined by Wanty-Groupe Gobert’s Guillaume van Keirsbulck, BMC Racing’s Michael Schär and Katusha-Alpecin’s Niels Politt. With 7 laps to go the six riders held a 25 second lead over the peloton which was now pulled along by BORA-Hansgrohe and Groupama-FDJ.
The six leaders were a powerful outfit at the front of the race and cooperation at the front of the race could spell a battle for the bunch; who, nevertheless, kept the break at the 20 second margin for much of the next lap until steadily the break’s lead stretched out to a little over 40 seconds with 4 laps to go. The break continued on, with Taylor Phinney’s performance made all the more impressive by the fact that he was riding with a broken nose sustained earlier in the race.
Breakaway valiant as sprinters warm up
At 20km to go the gap was still some 34 seconds as Lukas Postlberger of BORA-Hansgrohe took on the pace-setting. A change in the front of the bunch saw Cofidis now contribute to the pace-setting. Peter Sagan could be seen close to the front of the race, an indication that even injured, he would be up for taking on the challenge of winning in Paris; an accolade that had so far eluded him.
Steadily the break’s lead began to drop as with 3 laps to go the six leaders’ advantage dropped just a fraction. The average speed at this point was a solid 45kph and at 2 laps to go the break still had 20 seconds in hand. As the race progressed the leaders dared not attack one another; with the peloton beginning to pick up speed and look a bit more assured of catching the break.
As the break’s lead dropped to about 13 seconds another attack came from out of the peloton, this time with Julian Alaphilippe in the move; although that was quickly nullified by the bunch. At 10km to go the break’s lead still held at 10 seconds. As the break reached the kilometre to go banner which they’d pass under one more time, Niels Pollitt attacked from the break. The break’s time out in front was coming to an end. The German went through the bell for the final lap in the lead; with just 7km separating him from the finish line.
Trek-Segafredo were moving up back in the bunch to support the chase, as the rest of the break were swept up with 6.3km to go. Pollitt held on for as long as he could but inevitably he too was caught with just under 6km left to race. At 5km to go then it was once again a battle for the sprinters; although the battle to be on the front saw a number of teams competing for the front of the race. BORA-Hansgrohe, Bahrain-Merida, Astana, Quick-Step Floors and Dimension Data were all competing for the front; with Jack Bauer of Mitchelton-Scott also close to the front of the peloton.
Lampaert makes sprinters hold breath, but Kristoff comes through
With 4km to go the speed was hitting an impressive 60+kph. Bahrain-Merida had a slight amount of control over the peloton but then with 3km to go Groupama-FDJ surged forward. With 2.5km to go Marco Marcado of UAE Team Emirates launched a late attack. Behind Yves Lampaert of Quick-Step Floors and Daniel Oss of BORA-Hansgrohe bridged across and passed the rider, with Groupama-FDJ finally forced to try and shut it down.
Through the tunnel for the final time Oss led the way with Lampaert on his wheel. The Belgian national champion then attacked with 1.3km to go and under the kite for the final time Lampaert looked like he might well take it as the gap opened up.
Groupama-FDJ were at full stretched and with 600m to go it was his to lose. The Belgian national champion’s colours led the way through the final turn but then finally Jasper Stuyven led John Degenkolb across to Lampaert’s wheel and from here it was all about the sprinters. John Degenkolb hit the front a little too early; and as he did so Arnaud Demare and Alexander Kristoff moved up on his right and left respectively.
Edvald Boasson Hagen was launching a late charge but it was too late for the Norwegian as the three leaders, Kristoff, Demare and Degenkolb powered on. Kristoff had just enough pace to edge Degenkolb with Demare and Boasson Hagen third and fourth. Christophe Laporte of Cofidis took fifth ahead of Ariel Richeze and Sonny Colbrelli; with Peter Sagan still getting up for 8th place, with Wanty-Groupe Gobert’s Andrea Pasqualon 9th and Jasper De Buyst 10th.
Dion Smith was the first of the Kiwis to finish, coming home in 24th place, while Jack Bauer finished 44th and Tom Scully crossed the line 117th on the stage.
Thomas makes history for Wales
Geraint Thomas of Team Sky stayed safely in the peloton to win the 2018 Tour de France by 1.51mins ahead of Tom Dumoulin of Team Sunweb and Chris Froome. Primoz Roglic and Steven Kruijswijk completed the top five for LottoNL-Jumbo, while Romain Bardet took sixth place, Mikel Landa 7th, Dan Martin eighth, and Ilnur Zakarin and Nairo Quintana wrapped up the top ten.
Dion Smith was once again the first of Kiwis in the GC battle at 81st overall, with Jack Bauer 103rd and Tom Scully 109th.
Peter Sagan completed a dominant display in the maillot vert, winning the points classification comfortably ahead of Alexander Kristoff and Arnaud Demare; with John Degenkolb fourth and Julian Alaphilippe fifth. For Alaphilippe he’d done enough for the win in the king of the mountains ahead of Warren Barguil and Rafal Majka; with Geraint Thomas and Tom Dumoulin completing the top five.
France had further reason to celebrate in the classifications along with Alaphilippe as Pierre Latour won the best young rider classification ahead of Egan Bernal and Guillaume Martin. Finally Movistar took the team classification ahead of Team Sky and LottoNL-Jumbo.