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Bicycle Racing News and Opinion,
Friday, July 27, 2018

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2018 Tour de France | 2018 Giro d'Italia

When a man is wrapped up in himself, he makes a pretty small package. - John Ruskin

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Tour de France Stage 18 reports

We posted the organizer's stage 18 report with the stage results.

Here's the report from Peter Sagan's Bora-hansgrohe team:

In a transition day between two harsh mountain stages, the sprinters were given their opportunity to shine in a fast sprint to Pau, the last one before the Tour de France makes its entry into Paris. It could have been a stage earmarked for Peter Sagan but the UCI World Champion was bumped and bruised, hurting from yesterday's horrible crash.  Kept safe and out of trouble during the stage by his BORA-hansgrohe teammates, Peter Sagan, in a display of exceptional tenacity, decided to take his chances at the sprint. Delivered into position perfectly by the squad, the Slovak rider battled it out, gave his all and finished 8th, proving again his remarkable strength.

The Stage
The sight of today’s parcours would send a ripple of relief through the peloton. Compared to stage 17’s relentless climbing and descending, the flat parcours of stage 18 would be easy. Two fourth category climbs had to be crossed today, but these would look – and feel – like small mounds to the riders, the longest being 2.1km and the steepest being 7%. All this being said, the flat finale of this 171km stage meant that the sprinters would be aiming to take control in the later stages, and they would ramp up the pace, making it hard for everyone. The finish in the town of Pau would mean street furniture and some twists and turns – something riders haven’t had to contend with for some time in the mountains – and an unwary or tired rider could be caught out here.

Peter Sagan

Peter Sagan will start stage 19 in green. Sirotti photo

The Team Tactics
As the race has gone on and the riders become more tired – with almost 3,000km in their legs – the outcomes of the stages have become less predictable. What would normally be earmarked for the sprinters could now fall to a determined breakaway or a late attack – especially with a fourth category climb less than 20km from today’s finish. While normally the BORA-hansgrohe riders would support the UCI World Champion, Peter Sagan, on a day like today, in the wake of yesterday's hard crash the team would be protecting the Slovak rider to ensure he finished the stage safely, ahead of one last vicious day in the mountains. BORA-hansgrohe would earmark Daniel Oss, Lukas Pöstlberger and Gregor Mülhberger to make a move if a big breakaway group were formed.

The Race
The drop of the flag saw a five riders that rushed to form an early breakaway group. Frantic action  was taking place behind them with attacks, counter attacks and plenty of marking within the peloton. Daniel Oss and Lukas Pöstlbergers took turns at giving it a go at bridging the gap but disparate team strategies kept those attacks at bay. It took 25km until the bunch was happy to let the escapees off the leash and settle for the best part of the day. Still, the peloton had its share of nervousness, attacks, skirmishes and pileups while a bumped and bruised Peter Sagan  once again displayed his extraordinary strength by contesting the intermediate sprint and bagging a few additional points.

The bunch dictated the pace of the race, allowing the five men in the front no more than a two-minute advantage. With 40km to go, the sprinters teams came to the fore and took control, leading the pursuit of the escapees and bunching up the peloton 17km from home. BORA-hansgrohe's powerhouse, Daniel Oss, Maciej Bodnar, Marcus Burghardt and Austrian Champion, Lukas Pöstlberger, took over and skillfully helped Peter Sagan negotiate the twists and turns of the final kilometers to Pau.  The UCI World champion gritted his teeth and pedaled with all his strength in the last stretch. The effects of his crash were still felt but Peter's remarkable strength prevailed and the Slovak rider finished 8th, closely behind the fast sprinters.   

From the Finish Line
"It was a very difficult day for me and I suffered a lot not just because of the injuries I have from my crash but also from the heat.  Once again, my teammates did an excellent work, they protected me during the stage and helped me position myself for the final sprint. I really wanted to try and go for the win but my legs were still hurting. I need to rest and recover more because tomorrow we have another very hard day in the mountains." - Peter Sagan, UCI World Champion

"Originally, our plan was to send someone into the break, but we didn’t expect that one of the first attempts to stick. Then, the race was well controlled by the sprinters teams, so we just focused on staying out of trouble. We didn‘t expect Peter to go for the sprint, but on the last 10km the team moved up with him and he tried. Obviously, he was affected by yesterday‘s crash, but still, to even try to go for it after such a bad crash shows his mentality. He is an exceptional guy in many ways." - Enrico Poitschke, Sports Director

Third-place Alexander Kristoff's UAE-Team Emirates sent me this update:

UAE Team Emirates’ Alexander Kristoff secured a top three finish on Stage 18 of the Tour de France as the European Champion capped off a strong team performance. After being led in impressively by his team mates, Kristoff, who sits second in the race for the green jersey, battled hard in the closing kilometres to finish third. It was an notable team effort from the Emirati formation, with the team’s riders controlling the pace of the peloton for a large portion of the race.

Commenting on his finish, Kristoff said: “I didn’t really have the legs in the final kilometre. The team did a lot of work, but unfortunately I did not have the fastest legs and that’s it. I hope in Paris I can win.”

Arnaud Demare

You can't see him behind winner Arnaud Demare, but Alexander Kristoff was third in the sprint.

The Norwegian now heads into the final three stages, vying to secure a podium place in the sprint classification. The final day in the mountains is upon the peloton – and what a day it promises to be! There are no less than six categorised climbs on the 200km route from Lourdes to Laruns and the stage could be one of the highlights of what has been an exhilarating Tour de France. Should a GC contender attack and succeed in gaining seconds on his rivals, it will make the penultimate day of racing – an Individual Time Trial on Saturday afternoon – even more intriguing.

Here's what GC leader Geraint Thomas' Team Sky had to say:

Geraint Thomas is fully focused on the final mountain stage of the Tour de France after safely negotiating stage 18. The yellow jersey and his Team Sky teammates were able to sit in the bunch and recoup energy for 171 kilometres ahead of Friday’s final mountain test in the Pyrenees.

A bunch sprint into Pau ensured the general classification went unchanged, with Thomas holding an advantage of one minute and 59 seconds over Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb), and 2:31 over teammate Chris Froome.

After a fast and competitive start five riders went up the road, and despite the reduced number of sprinters left in the race there were still a number of teams willing to ride on the front, keeping tabs on the day’s breakaway. Team Sky riders were always on hand to cover moves and drive the pace into the final kilometres, keeping Thomas and Froome safe while ensuring no time was lost.

At the finish it was Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) who popped up to take the victory, with the Frenchman edging out compatriot Christophe Laporte (Cofidis) at the line.

Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas

Chris Froome & Geraint Thomas at the start of stage 18. Sirotti photo

After the stage Thomas explained that the test had been tougher than it looked on paper. He said: "It was a solid start and it definitely wasn't an easy stage. We were on the pedals all day and it was a hot day which made it tough. It was a really fast final too which was a bit stressful so I'm happy to make it through.

"I try to just think about it day by day. But obviously there's one more big (mountain) day. It's the last road stage and we're expecting a lot of attacks. There's a lot of climbing and it's going to be a hard day. We've ridden really well as a team so far so we'll look to keep that going."

With a brutal queen stage in the mountains up next, the Welshman added that he expects his rivals to push hard to make up time. "We're expecting the worst really - guys trying to go in the early break and attacks maybe on the Tourmalet as well as the final climb and descent. The boys will go all in. We just need to be vigilant, stay on our toes and keep doing what we've been doing."

And Greg van Avermaet's BMC team sent me this report:

26 July, 2018, Pau (FRA): Tour de France stage 18, which included just two category four climbs and came down to a bunch sprint in Pau, provided some respite for the riders who now have two consecutively tough stages in the Pyrenees under their belts with one more to come tomorrow.

Five riders attacked as soon as the flag dropped today but the racing continued behind them and the peloton was strung out in single file under pressure for the first 25km, of the 171km course, before letting the breakaway go clear.

Stage 18 break

Stage 18's break of five riders. Sirotti photo

However, with a fast finish expected, it was the remaining sprinters' teams alongside race leader, Geraint Thomas' Team Sky teammates who began to set the tempo at the front of the bunch, keeping the leaders' advantage to 1'30".

At the 100km to go mark, the gap had fallen to inside one minute and as a result, three riders took the opportunity to jump off the front of the peloton and attempt to make contact with the breakaway before being pulled back around 10km later.

The advantage of the leaders began to rise once again as the race behind them started to settle down, and for the first time, it was allowed to reach over two minutes before being brought back under control. With 50km to go, BMC Racing Team continued to sit comfortably in the first half of the peloton 1'20" behind the leaders before, with the chase heating up, the race was pulled back together inside the final 20km of the day.

The intense pace being set neutralized the possibility of any late attacks and in the end, the peloton was all together as it flew under the flamme rouge towards the bunch sprint which was won by Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ).

All six BMC Racing Team riders crossed the line safely in Pau with Michael Schär, Greg Van Avermaet, and Stefan Küng the team's first three riders across the line, all finishing inside the top thirty.

Quotes From the Finish Line:

Greg Van Avermaet:
"It was a pretty hard start that's for sure and then there were a few attacks afterward but in the end, it was one of the easiest day of this Tour. But, that was also necessary I think. Everyone is tired and for us, it was a good day to recover from our efforts on the stages before. I tried to be in the sprint but in the end, I didn't want to take too many risks. I still have some nice races to come after the Tour so, on a flat sprint like today, I didn't want to go for it too much. Overall, it was a good day for the team. Of course, it was without a result but that is not always necessary."

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