France’s Arnaud Demare won the Tour de France’s flat 18th stage on Thursday, after finishing last on Tuesday and next to last on Wednesday in mountain stages.
Demare edged countryman Christophe Laporte and Norwegians Alexander Kristoff and Edvald Boasson Hagen.
Brit Geraint Thomas retained his 1-minute, 59-second lead over the Netherland’s Tom Dumoulin in the overall standings. The top 10 standings remained the same.
Demare said he was motivated by an accusation on social media from Andre Greipel, a top German sprinter, who alleged that Demare held on to his team car on the way up the grueling Col du Portet in Stage 17.
Demare finished Wednesday’s stage second to last but managed to avoid the time cut as thousands of French spectators cheered him on.
Greipel, who also quit in Stage 12, later apologized on Twitter, saying he had relied on “incorrect” information.
“It hurt me enormously,” Demare said. “It’s a shame that people cast doubts over my performance and my hard work. … I thought a lot about (Greipel) today. It’s not in my mindset or my philosophy to (cheat). I worked hard in the mountains before the Tour and, as a result, I made it through mountain stages when most of the sprinters did not.”
Demare benefited from the mountains depleting the sprint field the last two weeks. Fernando Gaviria and Dylan Groenewegen, who both won two stages on this Tour, along with Andre Greipel all abandoned the race last week, while 30-stage winner Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel failed to make a time cut in the Alps.
Demare finished 147th on Tuesday and 145th on Wednesday, losing more than an hour to Thomas and the race leaders, before grabbing his second career Tour stage win Thursday.
Thomas must navigate one more mountain stage Friday and a 19-mile time trial Saturday to ride into Paris on the final day Sunday in the yellow jersey.
Coverage continues Friday on NBC Sports Gold at 5:50 a.m. ET and NBCSN at 7 a.m.
“We’re expecting the worst, hoping for the best. … It’s the last mountain stage and I think guys will try to take every opportunity they can,” Thomas said. “But we’ve been riding real well the whole race, so hopefully we can keep that going for one more day.”
Perhaps a bigger worry for Thomas and third-place teammate Chris Froome concerns the unruly fans who have consistently affected this Tour by spitting at riders — or even reaching out to grab them.
One fan who reached over the barriers nearly took Thomas down on Wednesday
“I thought it was maybe an accident, just maybe an overly exuberant fan,” Thomas said. “But when I got back to the hotel and was showed the pictures it was obviously something else. It’s not nice. It’s not what you want.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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