Analysis from an easy day for all but one of the GC contenders

Arnaud Démare wins

Arnaud Démare celebrates victory on stage 18 of the Tour de France (Credit: Yuzuru Sunada)

Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) has spent much of the last two weeks at the back of the peloton, with his continued participation at the race plunged into increasing peril during the Pyrenees as he struggled to remain inside the time limit.

He survived, and the effort put in was more than justified today when he returned back to the front of the race with a sprint win from a bunch finish.

>>> Arnaud Démare sprints to dominant victory on stage 18 of the 2018 Tour de France

The victory is the Frenchman’s second career Tour de France stage win following the stage he picked up last year in Vittel. Whereas that win came as early as the fourth day of the race, this year Démare has had to persevere and be patient, getting close by finishing in the top five on four occasions earlier, and now capitalising on the absence of the many top sprinters who are no longer in the race.

The result will likely attract added interest in the context of a spat on Twitter last night, in which one of those absent sprinters, André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal), accused Démare of holding on to cars to make the time limit during yesterday’s stage. The German later apologised and took back his accusation, but it was easy to detect a fired-up vindication in Démare and his team’s celebrations today.

Sagan not his usual self

Having been so consistent in the bunch sprints throughout this Tour, it was clear that the injuries sustained in a crash yesterday must have played a significant role in Peter Sagan’s lowly eighth place finish today.

Remarkably, Sagan’s previous lowest finish in a sprint at this year’s race had been third place, but he didn’t get anywhere near finishing that high today. He failed to surf wheels in the finale as effortlessly as usual and had to start his sprint from a long way back, which itself lacked his usual kick.

Earlier in the day it seemed as though Sagan may not even contest the sprint, as his Bora-Hansgrohe teams were conspicuous by their absence at the front of the peloton. However, the team amassed at the front inside the final 10km, giving him a lead-out to go for the win despite his injuries.

He was not able to deliver, and perhaps the Champs-Élysées stage will come too soon for him to recover enough to contest the win.

The most important thing now for Sagan – who already has an unassailable lead in the points classification – is to make it to Paris, for which he’ll have to survive the stern test of tomorrow’s huge Pyrenean stage.

Cofidis drought nearly comes to an end

Christophe Laporte shows his anger to Arnaud Démare after finishing second on stage 18 of teh 2018 Tour de France (Credit: PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Shockingly, over ten years have passed since Cofidis last picked up a stage win at the Tour de France (courtesy of Sylvain Chavanel, who was back then still in his twenties).

Despite being Grand Boucle regulars, the men in red have toiled in this past decade, regressing from World Tour down to Pro-Continental level. The signing in 2015 of star sprinter Nacer Bouhanni was supposed to give them a new lease of life, but has been a fraught affair culminating in him not even being selected for this year’s race.

The team’s barren run very nearly came to an end today, however, as Christophe Laporte sprinted for second place, finishing only marginally behind Demare.

Laporte has excelled in the absence of Bouhanni, sprinting his way to a couple of top five finishes during the first week, and could, aged just 25, represent the future of the team, should they manage to keep hold of him.

In the short term, the aim will be to win on the Champs-Élysées – a dream scenario for both rider and team, that would be as glorious a way as possible to bring an end to the drought.

No chance given to the day’s break

The day’s break were never allowed more than two minutes over the bunch (Credit: Yuzuru Sunada)

Today’s stage had been touted as a possible chance for a breakaway to succeed, but the five riders that broke clear from the peloton at the start of the day were never allowed any significant leeway.

Often at this late stage of a Grand Tour, breakaways succeed even on stages as flat as this, as a tired peloton full of depleted teams lack the energy to chase them down. But, even though so many teams have lost their leading sprinters in this race, there was enough firepower from the likes of UAE Team Emirates, Cofidis and Groupama-FDJ to keep the break in check.

Given the makeup of the quintet, the chasers needed to be on the top of their game to bring them back. Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step Floors), Thomas Boudat (Direct Energie), Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), and Luke Durbridge and Mathew Hayman  (Mitchelton-Scott) are about as powerful a grouping of rouleurs as you can find, and their large builds made for a stark contrast from the lightweight climbers who have populated most breaks during the second half of the Tour.

They weren’t powerful enough to hold off the bunch, however, and the catch was eventually made with just under 20km left to ride

Quintana crashes

Nairo Quintana rides back to the bunch after crashing with 110km to go on the stage to Pau (Credit: MARCO BERTORELLO/AFP/Getty Images)

Although the risk of crashing is significantly reduced on a flat stage during the third week compared with the hectic tension of the first week, an incident can occur at any moment at the Tour de France, as Nairo Quintana (Movistar) found out today.

The Colombian suffered a fall mid-way through today’s stage, hurting his left elbow. He was able to get back up on his bike again, but was bleeding significantly while receiving treatment at the medical car.

Having looked back to his best in winning yesterday’s stage, Quintana is expected to again animate the race during tomorrow’s final Pyrenean stage with the intention from moving up from fifth overall. For him to have a chance, he’ll need any pain endured in today’s crash to relent.