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FRANCE, July 27, 2018 (News Wires) - Yellow jersey holder Geraint Thomas is "expecting the worst", but warned ambitious rivals that going too deep on the final day in the mountains could end their Tour de France podium chances.

Thomas moved a step closer to becoming Wales's first Tour champion when he came through the 18th stage to Pau unhindered and with his lead of 1min 59sec on Dutchman Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) intact.

Thomas had been lucky to escape being hauled off his bike by an "overexuberant" fan as he raced to third place at Saint-Lary-Soulan on Wednesday.

After avoiding such mishaps Thursday, the 32-year-old now only has to keep focus over a hilly 19th stage that features Pyrenean classics like the Col d'Aspin, the Col du Tourmalet and the Col d'Aubisque. And hope Team Sky do the rest.

"I think we're expecting the worst, hoping for the best," said Thomas.

"It will be a big test. I think it's one more for the team to control most of the day."

Yet Thomas has the race route in his favour as he bids to bring home Team Sky's sixth yellow jersey from the last seven editions, four of which have been won by teammate Chris Froome.

The finish line is 20km from the summit of the Col d'Aubisque, meaning any time his rivals may have gleaned over the stage's final, rolling 16.6 km ascent could, theoretically, be lost on the descent.

And efforts rivals spend trying to loosen his grip on a yellow jersey gained following back-to-back stage wins in the Alps could, he believes, be paid for in the penultimate-stage time trial over 31 km.

"It's the last mountain stage and I think guys are going to take any opportunity they can. But at the same time, in the back of their minds they still have to do the time trial," added Thomas.

"They could do a big, big move tomorrow (Friday) and maybe gain two, three minutes or whatever, and then quite easily lose a chuunk of time in the time trial.

"It's interesting, but we've been riding really well all race, and hopefully we can keep that going for one more day."

The biggest threat to Thomas comes from Dumoulin, who said: "If I see an opportunity, I'll take it."

But at nearly two minutes down, the Dutchman conceded: "My victory chances are slim... I would have to take something like two minutes off him, so it's complicated."

Former Sky rider Mikel Landa, now a rival with Movistar and hoping to lift teammate Nairo Quintana from fifth, warned: "Friday will be our day. It will be difficult, but tomorrow we hope to turn the race around."

Making Friday's stage more intriguing is the fact that Froome, who had been aiming for his fourth consecutive Grand Tour win, is now fighting for a podium place.

Third overall at 2:31 after losing second place to Dumoulin on Wednesday, the Kenyan-born Briton is in danger of losing his Paris podium place to those in his wake.

Slovenian Primoz Roglic, an ex-ski jumper who rides for Lotto-Jumbo, is 16secs behind him while Colombian climbing specialist Quintana is at 3:30.

"Having Froomey at my disposal, so to speak, is just, like, phenomenal," said Thomas.

"But hopefully, he won't have to do much anyway. I think the last final (climb) will be down to the legs.

"It would be good to just keep on doing what we've been doing."

FRANCE, July 26, 2018 (News Wires) - Geraint Thomas strengthened his grip on the yellow jersey after Sky team-mate Chris Froome struggled on the Tour’s first ever ascent of the unforgiving Col du Portet, where Colombian Nairo Quintana marked a return to form by soloing clear to secure his first stage victory in five years.

At just 65 kilometres long and boasting three climbs and 48 kilometres of ascent, the shortest but sharpest stage in modern Tour history always promised to pack a punch – and it delivered in buckets, including perhaps a knock-out blow for Froome’s hopes of a record-equalling fifth Tour win.

If Movistar climber Quintana bounced back with a welcome return to form and an impressive Stage 17 win ahead of a chasing Dan Martin of Ireland, it was Thomas who stole the show by responding to all the attacks levelled against him – and then riding clear of his rivals in the closing moments.

Welshman Thomas took third place on the stage ahead of Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) and Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) after Froome was distanced inside the final couple of kilometres following a medley of attacks from the Dutch and Slovenian time trial specialists.

Froome, who had started the final climb bullishly with an attack which momentarily distanced his rivals, suffered the ignominy of being distanced by his 21-year-old team-mate Egan Bernal – the youngest rider in the race – after the Colombian pulled his leader towards the line some 48 seconds behind Thomas.

To add insult to temporal injury, the boos rained down on the four-time Tour champion as he struggled to limit his losses on the highest peak of this year’s Tour, which was being used for the first time in the race’s history. On this showing, it won't be the last appearance.

Froome, the reigning Giro d’Italia champion and winner of the previous three Grand Tours, dropped to third place in the general classification and now trails team-mate Thomas by 2’31” as Dumoulin emerged as the major obstacle to what would be an unlikely maiden Tour win for Thomas.

Team Sunweb’s Dumoulin is 1’59” down on the yellow jersey with one final mountain stage and the decisive penultimate day time trial the two major remaining tests ahead of the Tour finale in Paris on Sunday.

Froome may now find himself carrying out a domestique role for Team Sky for the first time since begrudgingly guiding Bradley Wiggins to yellow in 2012. While doing so, he will have to defend his place on the final podium from the impressive Roglic, who lies just 16 seconds behind in fourth place.

After his second win of the season – and his first on the Tour since his Stage 20 triumph at Le Semnoz in 2013 – Quintana rises into the top five at 3’30” at the expense of Frenchman Romain Bardet, who cracked with 6km remaining.

CARCASSONNE, France, July 23, 2018 (News Wires) - Defending champion Chris Froome said he is ready to sacrifice a record-equalling fifth Tour de France victory if it helps Sky teammate Geraint Thomas claim his maiden yellow jersey.

Four-time champion Froome can pull level with the likes of former five-time winners Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault, Eddy Merckx and Miguel Indurain if he triumphs on the Champs Elysees next Sunday.

The feat would also see the Kenyan-born Briton, who won the 2017 Tour of Spain and this year's Giro d'Italia, become the first rider since deceased Italian Marco Pantani, in 1998, to claim a Giro-Tour double in the same calendar year.

But Froome, currently 1min 39sec behind Thomas in the overall standings going into three consecutive days in the Pyrenees, said he would be happy to forego all the glory if it means Thomas wins the race for Sky.

"As long as there is a Team Sky rider on the top step of the podium in Paris, I’m happy," Froome said as he and Thomas faced media on the race's second and final rest day in Carcassonne.

Asked if he would sacrifice his hopes of a fifth Tour crown to help Thomas, Froome replied: "Yes."

Thomas has yet to podium on a three-week Grand Tour and, despite winning the Criterium du Dauphine last month, crashed out of both the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France in 2017.

But despite uncertainties over his ability to maintain form, and stay on the bike, in the crucial third week, the 32-year-old Welshman has often looked more incisive than Froome.

For some, Thomas is simply preparing the terrain for Froome to take flight on one of the Pyreneean stages before targeting his record-equalling fifth win.

Alternatively, Sky could be counting on Thomas to take it all the way. Froome's participation in the Giro d'Italia means he, like many other racers before him, may pay for those efforts in the final week.

Team Sky chief Dave Brailsford was at pains to underline his admiration for both riders, saying: "The two of them are big champions.

"For me it's important to see either one of them win the Tour de France."

But, replying in French to one journalist, he possibly let slip the key to Sky's internal race strategy.

"At the end of the day, it's the legs of the riders that will decide," he added.

Froome was more evasive when asked if he would attack Thomas if in a position to do so.

MENDE, July 22, 2018 (News Wires) - Spain's Omar Fraile powered to victory with a late burst in the last climb of the 14th stage of the Tour de France, a 188-km ride from Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux.

The Astana rider caught Belgian Jasper Stuyven near the top of the Cote de Croix Neuve, a three-km ascent at an average gradient of 10.2 per cent and did not look back as he crossed the line.

France's Julian Alaphilippe was the fastest in the climb but he made his move slightly too late and finished six seconds behind, just ahead of Stuyven.

Briton Geraint Thomas keeps the yellow jersey after finishing ahead of his main rivals.

“Winning a Tour de France stage is the best for a professional rider,” said Fraile, who also has a Giro d'Italia stage win to his name.

“When I attacked I was not sure I would be able to keep my advantage. I knew Alaphilippe was coming strong.”

All three featured in an early breakaway that built a lead over the main pack of almost 20 minutes, although none of the 32 escapees were a threat in the general classification.

Welshman Thomas retained the overall leader's yellow jersey with a one minute 39 second lead over team-mate and defending champion Chris Froome, with Dutchman Tom Dumoulin in third place, 1:50 off the pace.

Froome, who was cleared of a suspected doping offence in the week leading up to the start of this year's race, has for years been targeted by the French crowd and yesterday had some form of liquid thrown at him as he neared the finish.

“I don't actually recall it but I'm not surprised, we've had a bit of that and it's always been water from what I've seen,” Thomas told a news conference.

Only Slovenian Primoz Roglic, who is fourth overall, 2:38 behind Team Sky's Thomas, gained some time on the main contenders when he attacked in the final climb.

He crossed the line 18:01 behind Fraile, but eight seconds ahead of Froome, Thomas and Dumoulin after the Dutchman also attacked in the climb.

The move hurt Frenchman Romain Bardet, who ended up 22 seconds off Roglic's pace. He is fifth overall, now 3:21 off the pace and faces a massive challenge in the approaching Pyrenees if he is to finish on the Tour podium for the third time.

Today's 15th stage is a 181.5-km hilly ride from Millau to Carcassonne ahead of the second rest day and three stages in the Pyrenees that could shake up the overall standings.

 

FRANCE, July 19, 2018 (News Wires) - Welshman Geraint Thomas soared to victory in the 11th stage of the Tour de France to take the overall leader's yellow jersey.

Thomas, of Team Sky, completed an impressive ride on the 108.5km stage from Albertville to the summit of La Rosiere by overtaking Spaniard Mikel Nieve (Mitchelton) in the closing metres.

Dutchman Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) finished second at 20sec, just ahead of Sky leader and four-time champion Chris Froome.

"It’s unreal I didn’t expect it at all," Thomas said.
"I knew there was a good chance (of going into yellow) but I didn’t know how everyone else was going to ride.

"Wearing the yellow jersey is a massive honour. I managed to do it last year and to do it two years in a row is really nice."

Thomas, who wore the yellow jersey for four days in 2017 after winning the opening time trial, now leads teammate Froome by 1min 25sec in the overall standings.

Dumoulin is third at 1:44, while the Spanish Movistar team's best-placed rider is Mikel Landa at 2:56, in seventh.

"We didn't do as well as we expected," said Movistar climbing specialist Nairo Quintana, who dropped to ninth overall at 3:16 behind Thomas.

"It was a very hard rhythm all day long. We lost a few seconds that, I hope, don't ruin our chances of aiming for the overall victory."

Thomas had struggled to hide his disappointment after missing the chance to race into the lead on Tuesday when, sitting only 43secs behind Belgian Greg Van Avermaet, Sky's tactics fell short of his personal expectations.

But a day before a third and final salvo in the Alps, which ends with the race to the summit of the legendary Alpe d'Huez, the formidable British outfit gave the Welshman a chance to make amends.

A 20-strong breakaway group that escaped early on the first of the day's four climbs contained no threats to Sky's race-winning ambitions.

And when Sky finally did come under threat, Spaniard Alejandro Valverde attacking them 5km from the summit of the Cormet de Roselend 33km from the finish, it proved too little too late.

Valverde raced over the summit to find Movistar teammate Marc Soler up ahead and, further up the road, found another ally in Dumoulin.

But the Spaniard's limits soon became clear when he refused, or was unable, to help the Dutchman when it came to taking his turn at the front.

With 15km and the final climb remaining, Sky's impressive pace-setting was holding firm. Only 40sec behind Valverde and Dumoulin, they had the pair well within their sights.

The final remnants of the earlier breakaway were left to their own devices when Nieve attacked 9km from the finish.

One kilometre further on, Valverde was reeled in by Sky and soon dropped.

The real drama came after the 5.5km to go mark, however.

An attack by Thomas prompted climbing specialist Romain Bardet to counter, which in turn prompted Froome to counter the Frenchman.

An attempt by Dan Martin to leave Froome in his wake was answered in defiant fashion by the Kenyan-born Briton, who spun the pedals in furious fashion to catch and then overtake the Irishman.

With less than 3km to the summit, Thomas and Dumoulin had Nieve only 30sec up ahead.

And when the Spaniard came within sight, the Welshman accelerated inside the final 500 metres to overtake him and solo over the line punching the air in triumph.

FRANCE, July 18, 2018 (News Wires) - Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe turned on the style to secure his maiden Tour de France 10th stage win on Tuesday as Belgium's Greg Van Avermaet stubbornly held on to the yellow jersey.

Alaphilippe, of the Quick Step team, launched an audacious lone attack on the third and penultimate climb and went on to solo over the finish several minutes ahead of the main peloton after a first day in the Alps marked by Van Avermaet outfoxing Team Sky in the yellow jersey stakes.

Days after France's World Cup victory, Alaphilippe handed the hosts their maiden win of the race -- and soothed the personal pain of two frustrating years hoping to bag his maiden Tour stage win.

"I can't describe it. Going for a win like this was a big dream for me," said Alaphilippe, who twice came close to winning a stage on his debut in 2016 before being sidelined by injury in 2017.

"I've worked really hard for this. Not everyone realises how important it is for a cyclist to take part in the Tour.

"For a Frenchman it's simply unavoidable.

"I'm happy the last 10 km was downhill because it gave me the chance to understand what was happening to me."

Expected to challenge overnight leader Van Avermaet for the right to wear the race's fabled tunic into the 11th stage, the Sky team of champion Chris Froome failed to muster a challenge despite their best-placed rider, Geraint Thomas, sitting only 43secs behind the Belgian in the overall standings.

Van Avermaet, who is not a specialist climber, appeared under threat at the beginning of the 158.5 km race from Annecy featuring four categorised climbs and with a downhill finish into Le Grand Bornand.

But the wily BMC rider outfoxed Sky by joining an early breakaway that went on to build a healthy lead on the main peloton and stymie whatever plans Sky may have had of taking control of the race.

As Alaphilippe surged towards his memorable first win, Van Avermaet produced a fantastic performance to finish just 1min 44secs behind, with Thomas, Froome and Team Sky crossing the line over three minutes behind the stage winner.

In the overall standings Van Avermaet now leads Thomas, in second, by 2min 22secs, with Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) now up to third overall at 3:10.

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