Even as the Tour de France leaves the Alps, the battle for the King of the Mountains classification has hotted up considerably with the new leader, Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers), defending a scant two-point lead over Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Team Emirates).
Carapaz claimed the King of the Mountains jersey on stage 18 from Pogačar - the mountain leader for just 24 hours in that ranking after his third place on stage 17 - thanks to a day-long breakaway, culminating in a second-place behind teammate Michal Kwiatkowski.
One of his most dangerous opponents in the ranking, Marc Hirschi (Sunweb) claimed maximum points on the first three climbs of the stage, but then crashed, leaving the road clear for Carapaz to move into the polka-dot jersey with maximum points on the final two ascents of the day.
However, Pogačar's sixth place on the Montée Plateau des Glières behind the stage leaders has allowed him to remain in the polka dot jersey game. Although Friday and Sunday only have one point apiece on single fourth category climbs, there are points on the first category ascent on Saturday's time trial of La Planche des Belles Filles. It means that the Tour's only race against the clock could, unusually, yet see another change of the mountains classification leader - back to Pogačar.
"I have the jersey for now, and we'll have to work out the best strategy to keep it to Paris," Carapaz told French TV after the stage.
Carapaz' decision to cede the stage to Michal Kwiatkowski hinged in large part on his laying a stake to the KoM jersey, giving he had already missed out on breakaways both on Tuesday and Wednesday.
He was second to Lennard Kamna (Bora-Hansgrohe) at Villards-de-Lans then was the last to be caught from the day-long break, just three kilometres from the line, on Wednesday's stage to the Col de la Loze.
"Today was a spectacular victory, we wanted the stage and the jersey and we got both," Carapaz said. "And we decided that Michal should have the win." But whether Carapaz can keep a grip on the mountains classification lead through Sunday remains to be seen.
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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