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Subject: Tour de France 2018: stages 18 and 19 rss

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Guy Vandille
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Stage 18: Trie-sur-Baïse -> Pau 171 km

With a couple of difficult mountain stages in their legs and another one to come, the peloton decided to make it a bunch sprint in Pau. Green jersey Kristoff was unable to score any points, but to his relief neither did his main rival Degenkolb. Quick Step and Groupama-FDJ demonstrated how a massive sprint should be handled. With perfect lead-outs by Lampaert and Guarnieri, it was a duel to the finish line between Richeze, the stand-in for Gaviria, and Arnaud Démare. The Frenchman was beaten by a whisker, Richeze collecting stage win number 4 for the succesful Belgian Quick Step team. With 2 riders in the top-5, one wonders whether Cofidis couldn't have done a more efficient sprint.

1. Maximiliano Richeze (Arg) QUI
2. Arnaud Démare (Fra) FDJ
3. Anthony Turgis (Fra) COF
4. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) DMD
5. Christophe Laporte (Fra) COF

There were no significant changes for any of the leader jerseys.

Stage 19: Lourdes -> Laruns 201 km

The final mountain stage in this year's Tour de France ! The day of reckoning for the riders claiming the title of best climber. Daniel Martin, who lost the polkadot jersey in the previous mountain stage to Romain Bardet, wanted to reverse this unfavourable situation. He attacked on the first big climb of the day, the Col d'Aspin. Bardet evidently picked up the challenge. Their duel was followed from close by by Nairo Quintana, the winner in Saint-Lary-Soulan. And the Colombian capitalized on the rivalry between Martin and Bardet, taking the 10 pts on the top of the Aspin, with Martin on his heels, followed by Bardet. Martin was now only 2 pts down on Bardet. The duel continued on the impressive flanks of the Col du Tourmalet. Daniel Martin again beat Bardet, and this time Quintana didn't meddle. As the Tourmalet is "hors catégorie", Martin collected 15 pts, 5 more than Bardet, and thus virtually took back the polkadot jersey. Martin, a born attacker, decided to push on together with Quintana. Bardet hesitated, but came back in the valley with the help of Froome, who had also escaped the peloton on the Tourmalet. With the peloton of GC leader Majka gaining on the leading quartet, Bardet attacked on the Col des Bordères. Martin was unable to respond, and lost his virtual polkadot jersey once again. The Irishman was caught by the chasing group, led by Katusha. Froome and Quintana were caught during the climb of the Col du Soulor, the first part of the Col d'Aubisque. Only Bardet remained in front now, but not for long. Katusha's leader, Ilnur Zakarin attacked on the Aubisque, together with Quintana. Both of them preceded Bardet on the top, but they didn't pose any threat for the polkadot jersey. Romain Bardet took the descent with a smile, knowing he now just had to make it to Paris in order to be celebrated there as the best climber of the Tour de France.
Meanwhile Dumoulin also launched an attack on the yellow jersey. But he was countered by Majka, and had to settle for the status quo, one day ahead of the all important individual time trial.
The descent of the Aubisque proved to be an ideal launching pad for Chris Froome to bridge the gap to the leading trio. He was unable to win the stage though, as Quintana crowned himself King of the Pyrenees, winning his second stage. Zakarin and Froome were beaten fair and square. Bardet didn't even bother to sprint. King of the mountains, that's what he had been dreaming of.

1. Nairo Quintana (Col) MOV
2. Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) KAT
3. Chris Froome (Gbr) SKY
4. Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2
5. Primoz Roglic (Slv) JUM at 7"

One day before the individual time trial Majka remains in yellow with a mere 7" on time trial specialist Dumoulin. The Dutchman, who had failed to take the yellow jersey by a couple of seconds on several occasions during this Tour, surely was not going to fail again ?! Quintana has narrowed the gap to a GC victory to 50", but the Colombian is not a time trial hero. Chris Froome is. And he was now in fourth position, 1'24" down on Majka. Bob Jungels was still holding on to fifth at 1'47".
With 2 stages to go and a lead of 11 pts Kristoff could already smell the points victory. The green jersey was set to move to Norway.
With no more mountains ahead, Romain Bardet secured himself of the polkadot jersey, totalling 86 pts, 8 more than the brave Daniel Martin.
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