Demare silences Tour de France critics as Thomas stays in yellow

Egan Bernal leads out Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas in Stage 19 of the Tour de France

"I think we're expecting the worst, hoping for the best", said Thomas, who is sure to face attacks from his rivals on the final day in the mountains. "We think there will be attacks straight from the start, it's the last mountain stage and the guys will be wanting to take any opportunity they can". But in the back of their minds they have still got to have the time trial. There's a danger that someone could make a big move, gain two or three minutes, and then lose it all and more in the time trial.

"But obviously having Froomey at my disposal, so to speak, is just phenomenal". "But hopefully he won't have to do much". "I just didn't have it", he said that afternoon, "and when you know that, your head just falls off a bit".

With Thursday's 170km 18th stage from Trie-sur-Baïse to Pau for the sprinters, Thomas' next danger day after Friday is Saturday's 31km stage 20 time-trial from Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle to Espelette.

The first sprint stage since last Friday was contested by a vastly depleted field of quick men following the exits of Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, Andre Greipel, Fernando Gaviria, Dylan Groenewegen and Michael Matthew at various points in the Tour so far.

After winning the 2017 Tour and Vuelta a España as well as the 2018 Giro d'Italia in succession, Froome's bid for a fourth-straight grand tour victory went off the rails on the Tour's first stage when he crashed and lost time.

Stage 18 saw local hope Demare, who had been accused by fellow sprint specialist Andre Greipel of holding on to his team auto in Wednesday's mountain stage to avoid missing the time cut, perfectly set up by Italian team mate Jacopo Guarnieri. Despite Greipel's apology, Demare said he had used his comments as motivation. A large group of riders broke away from the peleton early on, settling at 18 riders ahead of the first serious climb of the day to Col D'Aspin. "Obviously that insulted me. "(But) it just gave me confidence, that someone of his stature was struggling.

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The Frenchman added that comments from German rival Andre Greipel, who accused him of holding on to a vehicle to make it through the mountains, spurred him on.

World champion Peter Sagan was also not the factor he might usually be after suffering a nasty crash on Wednesday's stage.

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.

"It's fantastic. I'm really happy", added Alaphilippe, who also had some kind words for teammate Philippe Gilbert. "My physical condition is a bit worse than it was, but I took advantage of it to live the race from a different perspective..."

More kilometres of time trialling during this year's race would have suited Thomas and, for the clutch of riders within sight of a podium finish in Paris, it will be a make or break stage.

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