For taking the second Tour de France stage win of his career in Pau, Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) wins the Zwift Rider of the Day prize on the 18th stage of the race. The Frenchman beat out an admittedly depleted sprint field to grab the first win of the Tour by a French team.
A mostly-quiet day, the stage - which ran from Trie-sur-Baïse to Pau - was a brief reprieve from the harsh mountains of the Pyrenees, and always figured to be a sprint finish. The only problem was the lack of sprinters around to contest it.
With the big names of Gaviria, Cavendish, Kittel, Groenewegen. Matthews, Greipel all having already left the race, slim pickings remained in the peloton, with Démare, Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) and Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) perhaps the only top-tier sprinters still in the race.
Kristoff and Démare had struggled to a handful of podium spots earlier in the race, while Sagan rode the stage battered and bruised after crashing on a descent the day earlier. So it wasn't to be a top-quality showdown with every rider in top form, but maybe a chance for a second-tier sprinter like Christophe Laporte (Cofidis) or Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) to take advantage.
In the end, Groupama-FDJ played the stage perfectly. As with many of the Tour's other sprint stages, the red, white and blue-clad squad were visible on the front of the peloton throughout the day, reappearing in the closing kilometres.
Despite a late threat from Bora-Hansgrohe, looking to lead out Sagan in contradiction to the Slovak's pre-stage claims that he wouldn't contest the finish, the French squad were up top in the last 2km.
After he and Démare had jostled for space with UAE Team Emirates, Jacopo Guarnieri hit the front in the closing half-kilometre, depositing his leader in the wind with 220 metres remaining. The Italian was sat up celebrating with 50 to go, with Laporte and Kristoff unable to pass Démare, victory was assured - a French winner on the Tour's 70th visit to Pau.
"In the tough moments you always think there might be this opportunity, there might be this chance," Démare said after the stage. "I'm not the best climber but I had good legs at the end of today's stage.
"10km from the finish we were going really fast… I felt like I was really on the limit but I was in such a great position and the team did an amazing job to put me in there so it was really quite easy to finish off."
The win comes a day after Démare was forced to go on the defensive after fellow sprinter André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) accused the Frenchman of holding on to the Groupama-FDJ team car in order to make the time limit.
Glad to know you don't respect me as much as I respect you. I thought you were smarter. There are jury members everywhere at all times. I'm sending you my files. Given that you are an expert, let's see what you think about it.— Arnaud Demare (@ArnaudDemare) July 25, 2018
Demare's gap to the leader based on the tourtracker data. The gap at km 40 has to be an error because it returned to normal quickly. The final time cut was about 2100 seconds. https://t.co/d3LHTVbxGepic.twitter.com/YFnaDJYBYI— Velofacts (@velofacts) July 25, 2018
Démare had raced alone at the back of the race for much of the previous two Pyrenean stages, finishing last in Bagnéres-de-Luchon, and second-last in Saint-Lary-Soulan. After today's stage he had some words for Greipel, who had tweeted out an apology in the morning.
"I can thank him because I thought of him today," Démare said, referring to the German. "It's not my philosophy of cycling to do that. I worked very hard before the Tour to prepare for the mountains. It wasn't easy to get through them, and I'm very pleased to win today."
Daniel Ostanek: With a quality sprinting field at the Tour whittled down to just a few top-tier fast men, Démare was always going to be among the favourites to take a win on one of the two remaining flat stages. But to borrow a saying from another sport 'to finish first, first you must finish'.
Démare has done just that, slogging through some brutal mountain stages having being dropped at the very start of the day. Some would've climbed off rather than face such an ordeal, but the belief remained, and he's been rewarded for it. Just three more sleeps until the Champs-Élysées, Arnaud!
On Wednesday's stage 17 you voted for Movistar's Nairo Quintana as your Zwift Rider of the Day. The Colombian took his second career Tour stage win on the summit finish at Saint-Lary-Soulan, attacking at the base of the final climb of the day, the Col du Portet, before sweeping up the remains of the break to claim victory.
You can vote for stage 18's Zwift Rider of the Day below. We will announce the reader's poll winner after Friday's stage 19.
Pick your Zwift Rider of the Day for stage 18 of the #TDF2018 ! Stage winner Démare, early battler Craddock, breakaway man Terpstra, or peloton-worker Sutherland are today's choices...— Cyclingnews.com (@Cyclingnewsfeed) July 26, 2018