Arnaud Demare sprinted to victory on stage 18 of the 2018 Tour de France after a perfect lead-out in Pau.
The Frenchman was dropped off at the front and held off the charge of his countryman Christophe Laporte (Cofidis), whose protests about Demare’s sprinting line fell on deaf ears.
Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) finished third from a sprinting field depleted by the number of drop-outs in the Alps.
Yellow jersey Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) was safe in the bunch, meanwhile, with his Team Sky team-mates afforded a day off from chasing thanks to the sprint teams.
Five riders went clear early in the day, boasting plenty of firepower between them – former Paris-Roubaix winners Niki Tersptra (QuickStep Floors) and Mat Hayman (Mitchelton-Scott) were joined by Hayman’s team-mate Luke Durbridge, Guillaume van Keirsbulck (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) and Thomas Boudat (Direct Energie).
They were kept on a short leash for a very long time before the peloton – led by the sprint teams of Groupama-FDJ, UAE Team Emirates and Bora-hansgrohe – sat up to let them go.
With the five leaders still little more than a minute in front, it prompted a counter-attack from Michael Gogl and Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) with Sep Vanmarkce (EF-Drapac) on their wheels.
The change in pace the attack caused led to a crash in the bunch, with Nairo Quintana (Movistar) the worst affected despite the low speed of the incident and Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) also going down.
Quintana, with a badly torn jersey and bloodied elbow, required a trip to the medical car to get cleaned up and also changed his jersey but he got back into the bunch.
At the intermediate sprint, John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo), Kristoff, Peter Sagan (Bora-hansgrohe) and Andrea Pasqualon (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) tested their legs from the bunch, but with the points classification already sewn up – providing Sagan gets to Paris – it was little more than a token effort.
The sprint teams continued to keep the breakaway close at hand, affording Team Sky a day off chasing duties, and the gap was shut down with 16km to race.
Team Sky kept Thomas up towards the front of the bunch, while Groupama-FDJ and Bora-hansgrohe jostled for road position for their fast men.
Bora-hansgrohe set the pace but Sagan was happy to surf the wheels as the jostling for position intensified inside the final 2km.
Groupama-FDJ dropped Demare off perfectly at the front, however, and the Frenchman held off the charge from his countryman Laporte to claim victory.
Laporte was furious with the diagonal sprinting line Demare took, raising his arm in protest as Demare raised his in celebration.
But the Groupama-FDJ man was left to celebrate his first stage win of this year’s race and second of his Tour career.
Tour de France 2018: stage 18 – result
1) Arnaud Demare (FRA) – Groupama-FDJ – 3.46.50hrs
2) Christophe Laporte (FRA) – Cofidis – ST
3) Alexander Kristoff (NOR) – UAE Team Emirates
4) Edvald Boasson Hagen (NOR) – Dimension Data
5) Sonny Colbrelli (ITA) – Bahrain-Merida
6) Max Richeze (ARG) – QuickStep Floors
7) John Degenkolb (GER) – Trek-Segafredo
8) Peter Sagan (SVK) – Bora-hansgrohe
9) Taylor Phinney (USA) – EF-Drapac
10) Timothy Dupont (BEL) – Wanty-Groupe Gobert
1) Geraint Thomas (GBR) – Team Sky – 74.21.01hrs
2) Tom Dumoulin (NED) – Team Sunweb +1'59"
3) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky +2'31"
4) Primoz Roglic (SVN) – LottoNL-Jumbo +2'47"
5) Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar +3'30"
6) Steven Kruijswijk (NED) – LottoNL-Jumbo +4'19"
7) Mikel Landa (ESP) – Movistar +4'34"
8) Romain Bardet (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +5'13"
9) Daniel Martin (IRL) – UAE Team Emirates +6'33"
10) Jakob Fuglsang (DEN) – Astana +9'31"