Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) says he had to take risks on the Galibier descent, but it was worth it because he kept his Tour de France yellow jersey lead in Valloire.
Alaphilippe still maintains the general classification lead after stage 18, now 1-30 minutes over Egan Bernal. Ineos team-mate and 2018 winner Geraint Thomas is five seconds behind.
"I took some risk but in the end I was on my limit on the top of the Galibier but the gap was not too big so I just went full-gas on the descent," Alaphilippe said. "I just gave everything."
Nairo Quintana (Movistar) rode free for the stage win from an escape.
Alaphilippe was distanced nearing the top of the famous Galibier climb at 2,622 metres. Then it was a daredevil descent to catch the group ahead with Thomas and Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) in order to maintain his country's famous yellow jersey.
He caught them, but Bernal still rode ahead to reach Valloire with 32 seconds ahead of the Alaphilippe group.
"I took risks on the descent, it was very technical, I had to stay calm and recuperated a dozen seconds or so at the top," he continued. "I stayed concentrated on each corner and followed the motorbike.
"I went a bloc and the only mistake to avoid was falling – for the rest, I just stayed on the limit. Then I stayed ahead after I caught the group because I like to descend like that.
"I knew that it would be a really hard day. Everybody wants to attack and push me to my limit. And they did. I'm really happy to save my yellow jersey for one more day."
He is better known for his one-day wins like Strade Bianche, Milan-San Remo and La Flèche Wallonne this spring. He began the Tour just with the goal of wearing the yellow jersey and gained it with a solo win in Épernay and has held it almost every day since, 14 stages in total.
No-one believed Alaphilippe would still save his yellow jersey to this point. Every day for the 27-year-old from central France is a bonus now.
"I just want to thank them, the fans. I'm aware of the support," he added.
"Whatever happens with my result in Paris, this Tour has made an impression on the French. It's been a super experience that I will never forget."
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