Geraint Thomas finished second on the final mountain stage of the 2018 Tour de France in the Pyrenees to ensure he takes a 2’05” lead into the stage 20 time trial. But four-time winner Chris Froome dropped to fourth overall after Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) won the stage.
Roglic’s excellent descending saw him burst clear of the GC men on the descent of the Col d’Aubisque, after the yellow jersey group collected several escapees – Mikel Landa (Movistar) and Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale) among them – on the climb.
The GC contenders, with only stage 16 winner Nairo Quintana (Movistar) absent from that group, all descended to the finish line together but Roglic attacked well to earn an advantage.
Thomas was safely in the group behind, after following Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) all the way down the mountain, while Froome fought back well after being dropped on the climb only to lose his advantage over Roglic overall.
Team Sky’s Welshman now leads Dumoulin by 2’05” and Roglic by a further 19 seconds ahead of the final two stages.
Attacks were plentiful from the flag as the climbers looked to seize their last opportunity to show off in the Pyrenees before the stage 20 time trial and flat Champs-Elysees finale.
Once again, Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) was in the break, or at least part of one of several groups that eventually came together in the breakaway.
King of the Mountains Julian Alaphilippe (QuickStep Floors) was also there, while his team-mate Bob Jungels was the biggest threat to the GC men – sitting 13th overall at 14’20”.
Jungels’ presence up the road encouraged other teams to drive the peloton instead of just Team Sky – most notably Katusha-Alpecin for Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin).
The 18-strong front group eventually came together just before the Col d’Aspin, and Alaphilippe crested the summit alone to confirm he only has to reach Paris to win the polka-dot jersey.
That is the same situation Peter Sagan is in for the green jersey, but the world champion – still feeling the affects of his stage 16 crash – was off the back of the bunch and suffering.
After the Aspin came the Col du Tourmalet, and that’s where the fireworks really started with Zakarin, Mikel Landa (Movistar), Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) and Rafal Majka (Bora-hansgrohe) going clear of the GC group.
In the break, Alaphilippe crested the Tourmalet at the front – securing the Souvenir Jacques-Goddet for his efforts to go with the polka-dot jersey – before the attackers from the GC group caught the leaders.
Bardet instigated another attack in that group, followed by Landa and Majka, and the group began to thin with Yates already gone and Alaphilippe among those to sit up.
The attacks continued on the Aubisque – Landa, Bardet and Majka going clear in the break, while Dumoulin and Roglic in particular putting in plenty of digs off the front of the yellow jersey group.
That was enough to put Froome into difficulty, but as ever he dug deep to get back into mix.
The attacks and counter-attacks saw the gap to the leaders come down and only Majka remained at the front of the race over the top of the Aubisque.
Descending through the clouds, however, with poor visibility and misty conditions, Majka adopted caution and was absorbed by the chasing pack.
Roglic was leading the group, with Thomas safely following Dumoulin’s wheel, but Zakarin – who has come unstuck with his descending before – lost the wheels at the back after a couple of sketchy moments.
Roglic – who is a former ski jumper – used his excellent descending skills to open a small gap. This was enough to concern Froome who hit the front of the GC group to lead the chase, but Roglic’s advantage was 17 seconds with two kilometres to race.
And that increased by a further two seconds at the finish line, while behind Thomas sprinted to the line to take second place and ensure he holds a commanding position ahead of the time trial.
Tour de France 2018: stage 19 – result
1) Primoz Roglic (SVN) – LottoNL-Jumbo – 5.28.17hrs
2) Geraint Thomas (GBR) – Team Sky +19”
3) Romain Bardet (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale – ST
4) Daniel Martin (IRL) – UAE Team Emirates
5) Rafal Majka (POL) – Bora-hansgrohe
6) Tom Dumoulin (NED) – Team Sunweb
7) Mikel Landa (ESP) – Movistar
8) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky
9) Steven Kruijswijk (NED) – LottoNL-Jumbo +31”
10) Ilnir Zkarin (RUS) – Katusha-Alpecin – ST
1) Geraint Thomas (GBR) – Team Sky – 79.49.31hrs
2) Tom Dumoulin (NED) – Team Sunweb +2.05
3) Primoz Roglic (SVN) – LottoNL-Jumbo +2.24
4) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky +2.37
5) Steven Kruijswijk (NED) – LottoNL-Jumbo +4.37
6) Mikel Landa (ESP) – Movistar +4.40
7) Romain Bardet (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +5.15
8) Daniel Martin (IRL) – UAE Team Emirates +6.39
9) Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar +10.26
10) Ilnur Zakarin (RUS) – Katusha-Alpecin +11.49