Aussies hang tough as Tour de France rolls on
MITCHELTON-Scott continue to throw punches at the Tour de France, this time animating Stage 18 with a daring breakaway attempt that came up short.
On a day that offered the peloton a welcome respite from the mountains, Frenchman Arnaud Demare won a hectic and high-speed sprint, beating Christophe Laporte and Alexander Kristoff to the line in Pau.
But before he did, Australian pair Luke Durbridge and Mathew Hayman were among five escapees on the 171km run from Trie-sur-Baise.
The duo, desperate to deliver a result for the Australian team that's endured its share of misfortune, helped the group to a maximum two and a half minute advantage. But with so many teams eager to chase, they were eventually reeled in 17km from the finish.
Durbridge, awarded the most combative rider of the day, was philosophical afterwards.
"I think you have to put yourself out there in the breakaway and it's really up to the bunch whether you stay away," Durbridge said.
"We played a bit of cat and mouse with the peloton. We went a bit easier so they would give us some more time, but in the end, when you've got three or four teams chasing you it's not up to you. We gambled and we lost, but we gave it a good crack anyway."
The West Australian said the team would go all-in for a stage win in its last opportunity - a tough 200.5km Stage 19 mountain test suited to Adam Yates and Mikel Nieve.
"Obviously there is some frustration with how our Tour de France has gone, but you've seen how we bounced back from each stage … tomorrow we'll go again," Durbridge said.
"The energy in the team is really positive because if it wasn't we wouldn't be trying like that. It's a shame the way it's gone, but we're upbeat … tomorrow we roll the dice again and hopefully Mitchelton-Scott can get double sixes."
Demare's victory came with extra satisfaction after sprint rival Andre Greipel sensationally accused him of being towed up the Col du Portet to make the time cut on Wednesday's arduous summit finish.
After watching that stage, Greipel, who was one of many fast men to be sent home for missing the time cut in the Alps, tweeted: "Maybe someone should tell @GroupamaFDJ and @ArnaudDemare that there is GPS tracking in @LeTour. Chapeau to lose just 9min on a 17km climb on Quintana #notforthefirsttime."
The German's tweet drew a furious denial from Demare. Greipel later deleted his post and apologised, but speaking before his win on Thursday, Demare was still angry.
"Obviously, it hurt me enormously and everybody close to me and the team," Demare said.
"The best response would be to win today."
When he did, he said: "I've been through some difficult moments but I really wanted to make it to the final sprints and play my cards.
"This is for my wife, my family and my friends. People who know me, know how hard I trained for the Tour de France and this goal."
There were no changes to the overall classification as Geraint Thomas continues to lead the race by 1min59sec on Tom Dumoulin and 2min31sec to teammate Chris Froome ahead of the last mountain torture test - 200.5km and six climbs, including the Col d'Aspin, Col du Tourmalet and Col d'Aubisque.
Team Sky sports director Nicolas Portal said the British team could still lose everything, despite its position of power.
"We could lose the Tour de France on the stage to the Col d'Aubisque," Portal said.
"We could really lose everything on this stage. Of course, Thomas … doesn't look like he's going to crack, but we need to approach this day like a proper hard day and don't think that it is won."