Thomas set to win Tour as fading Froome drops down to fourth

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Thomas was second on the stage, nabbing six bonus seconds to extend his lead over closest rival Tom Dumoulin to two minutes and five seconds. The route will take the riders over three-quarters of the so-called "Circle of Death" - the Aspin, Tourmalet and Aubisque, but they are only three of six categorised climbs on a day created to break anyone already bending. "We are expecting a lot of attacks from the guys - especially on the [Col du] Tourmalet and certainly on the last climb".

With 6.5 kilometres to go Nairo Quintana went solo and dropped Majka, flying towards a stage victory, and just a kilometre later Romain Bardet went backwards and quickly too, a letdown for AGSR who had called all in on their leader and were seeing the mountain take the chips.

Points classification leader Peter Sagan, who endured a hard time on Wednesday, took charge with about 10km to go but as the Slovakian dropped back, Demare saw his chance and powered through to pip his compatriot Christophe Laporte by a whisker.

Team Sky controlled the pace as several riders attacked in the Montee de Peyragudes, a 14.9-km ascent at an average gradient of 6.7 per cent.

A member of the Gendarme caused the two men to stop abruptly and crash before he then pulled Chris Froome off his bicycle.

"But obviously having Froomey at my disposal, so to speak, is just phenomenal".

"But hopefully, he won't have to do much anyway".

"It'll be a big test. It will be good to just keep doing what we've been doing". "It didn't feel like a grab, but like a hit", Thomas said prior to the start of Stage 18 from Trie-sur-Baise to Pau on Thursday. Despite Greipel's apology, Demare said he had used his comments as motivation.

With three mountains in 65km, Wednesday lived up to expectations, with attacks bolting away from the start line that for the first time in a Tour had the first 20 riders overall line up in an F1 style grid. "Obviously that insulted me".

"The best answer I could give Andre Greipel was to win today", said Demare. He didn't know it was Chris when he was going down I don't think.

World champion Peter Sagan did not contest the final sprint after his crash on Wednesday left him in pain.

The Bora-Hansgrohe rider hobbled on to his bike in the morning but had put his team on the front in the final few kilometres before eventually finishing eighth. I'm happy just to be in this position. "My physical condition is a bit worse than it was, but I took advantage of it to live the race from a different perspective..."

Frenchman Arnaud Demare responded to his critics in flawless style on Thursday by winning Stage 18 of the Tour de France with a superb sprint finish.

After the drama of the past two days in the mountains this was a largely uneventful stage, no doubt welcome to those still with an eye on the fight for yellow. I'm not afraid of anything.