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Stage 18 was the last and best chance for the GC favourites – i.e. Tadej Pogačar – to take time back from Jonas Vingegaard, who has worn yellow since finishing off Jumbo-Visma’s daring plan on stage 11. Much the same happened on the final mountain stage of the 2022 Tour de France, and with just three days to go, the final GC is taking shape.
General classification after stage 18
- Jonas Vingegaard
- Tadej Pogačar +3:26
- Geraint Thomas +8:00
- David Gaudu +11:05
- Nairo Quintana +13:35
- Louis Meintjes +13:43
- Aleksandr Vlasov +14:10
- Romain Bardet +16:11
- Alexey Lutsenko +20:09
- Adam Yates +20:17
Slipping and slidding
As Jumbo-Visma sent two satellite riders up the road in Tiesj Benoot and Wout van Aert, everything fell into place behind as Pogačar’s own relentless attacks saw him isolated with a climb and a half to go. The Dane meanwhile, still had Sepp Kuss in his pocket, the American on another brilliant day, so Vingegaard was perfectly placed at the foot of the hors-category Hautacam, while Pogačar was beginning to sag with countless accelerations and a crash in his legs.
Pogačar was eventually ridden off the wheel just inside the last 5 km and he’d lost 1:04 by the summit, his chances of a third consecutive Tour victory climbing away from him with stage winner Vingegaard.
Third-place Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) had put in his own last-ditch attack on the penultimate climb of the Col de Spandelles, briefly gapping his rivals before the next Pogačar attack overhauled the Welshman. Thomas finished fourth on stage 18, just ahead of Groupama-FDJ’s David Gaudu, to consolidate a third podium finish, completing the set after first in 2018 and second the year after.
The race for minor placings is still on
Beneath the podium, there was movement in every placing from fourth all the way down to 15th. After two days of under-the-radar duelling in the Pyrenees, top Frenchman Gaudu leapfrogged Nairo Quintana (Arkéa Samsic) and now holds fourth with a strong margin of 2:48 over the Colombian, while his distance to the podium is bridgeable only if Thomas suffers some sort of disaster.
Though first and 10th are separated by over 20 minutes, the top five is still very much up for grabs. Quintana, Louis Meintjes (Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux) and Aleksandr Vlasov (Bora-Hansgrohe) are locked together within 35 seconds. The next realistic chance to make a difference is the 40 km time trial on stage 20, where Vlasov is best placed to make gains being far superior against the clock. But with crosswinds a possibility on Friday’s run to Cahors, expect all three teams to be hyper-vigilant.
The second Frenchman in the top 10 is Romain Bardet who slipped to eighth, although that doesn’t tell anything close to the whole story – Bardet and his young DSM teammates have been taking every chance to make gains, but the Frenchman was found out on the Hautacam.
One rider who has slipped out of the top 10, most likely once and for all, is the hapless Enric Mas (Movistar) whose attempt to get a head start on stage 18 saw him distanced on the second climb and drop like a stone back and through the peloton, ultimately losing 7:33, now almost four whole minutes off 10th-place Adam Yates (Ineos Grenadiers).
The Brit has held on miraculously despite suffering a reported respiratory infection this past week, while helping teammate Thomas where he can. Yates can pretty much count on a top-10 finish at his sixth Tour, and may even be able to equal his ninth-place in 2020 if he can better Alexey Lutsenko (Astana-Qazaqstan) – who attacked his way back into the top 10 with sixth on the stage – by at least eight seconds on Saturday.