Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) was not able to add to his victory tally at this year's Tour de France, finishing eighth place in the penultimate bunch finish in Pau. However, after a heavy crash on Wednesday’s short effort to the Col du Portet, the Slovakian was happy to be a day closer to Paris.
Sagan has an unassailable lead in the green jersey competition and will take a record-equalling sixth points title, but he received a scare when he misjudged a corner and ended up hitting a rock on the side of the road. He was covered in cuts and blood when he made it to the stage 17 finish line and started Thursday’s stage with a plethora of bandages.
Clearly in pain and unable to sprint to his usual level, Sagan is determined to forge on and make the finish line on the Champs-Elysées in Paris on Sunday.
"It could have been worse. I have pain everywhere, but I'm happy that I can still keep racing," he said after the stage. "My physical condition is a bit worse than it was, but I took advantage of it to live the race from a different perspective. It was a painful ride, but it was still better than it will be tomorrow. But I can't complain since I'm still on the race.
"The big goal is to finish the Tour de France, to survive the mountain stage on Friday, and to reach Paris. The time trial on Saturday will be fine. The big challenge is tomorrow's mountain stage. I’m not afraid of anything. I'm going to suffer a little bit, that's all."
Kristoff: I didn't have the legs
Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) appeared to be on the cusp of a Tour stage victory when he was edged out by Peter Sagan in Carcassonne at the end of last week, but the Norwegian was well off the pace in Pau on Thursday.
Kristoff finished a distant third after first finding himself out of position and then without the power to catch Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) as he sailed to victory. Following the finish, Kristoff said that the team got the lead-out wrong, but he ultimately didn't have the legs to match Démare in the finale.
"It wasn't so good. I just had one guy left with one kilometre to go. It was too early to be in front, but I didn't really have the legs in the final,” he explained. "We did a lot of work, but unfortunately I didn't have the fastest legs. I came from a little too far back in the final sprint."
Kristoff will have one final chance to get a victory on the board – his first since 2014.
"I hope I can win in Paris," said Kristoff, "but Démare was fast today and he'll be fast in Paris."
Disappointed Laporte settles for second
Christophe Laporte’s displeasure was easy to see on the finish line of stage 18 as he raised his hand to gesture his annoyance at stage winner Arnaud Démare.
Démare had moved from the barriers towards the centre of the road, where Laporte was undertaking his own effort. Laporte’s Cofidis team appealed to the race jury, but the result stood, leaving Laporte with a bitter-sweet feeling.
"I am disappointed to finish second, but, on the other hand, I've never finished in a podium position on a stage at the Tour," he said. "The victory would have been great, and it's disappointing because I've felt good these last few days. I wanted to do well today. The team did a great job for me, and I managed to finish second.
"Démare sprinted along the barriers and ended up in the middle of the road. After that, it was for the commissaires to judge – not me. I looked at the pictures afterwards and I thought that he moved across the road, but that's for the commissaires to decide."
Van Avermaet plays it safe
With few chances of squeezing much more out of the Tour de France, Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) had hoped to mix it with the few sprinters remaining in the bunch gallop into Pau. However, there are just two stages remaining before the final ride into Paris, and so the Belgian thought better of it in the hectic finish.
Van Avermaet, who wore the yellow jersey from stage 3 to 11, now has his eyes set on his post-Tour plans.
"It was a pretty hard start today, that’s for sure, and there were quite a few attacks. But, in the end, it was one of the easiest stages in the Tour," Van Avermaet explained. "I think we needed that because everyone's tired. For us, I think it was good to have a day to recover from the all the work we've done up until now.
"I tried to be there in the sprint but, in the end, I didn't want to take too many risks. Also, after the Tour, there are some nice races to come, so I didn't really want to risk it in a flat sprint. On the whole, I thought that it was a good day for the team. We didn't get a result, but that isn't always necessary."