Great Britain's Geraint Thomas.
Great Britain's Geraint Thomas.

Surprise leader’s race to lose as ‘biggest threat’ eyes final shot

THE Tour de France is Geraint Thomas' race to lose with only one rider seemingly left with a slim hope of catching the Welshman. The last stage in the Pyrenees on Friday - the Tour's so-called "queen stage" for its difficulty and drama - offers Dutch rider Tom Dumoulin his final real chance of capitalising on any slip-up from Thomas.

But Thomas hasn't put a pedal wrong after 2 weeks of racing, and Dumoulin knows he needs a miracle of sorts to take his yellow jersey on Stage 19 from Lourdes.

"I think the chance of winning the Tour is really, really small. But if I see an opportunity I will take it for sure," Dumoulin said after Thursday's uneventful Stage 18 ended in Pau. "I will try to test Thomas. We will see if it's possible."

Thomas leads the Team Sunweb rider by 1 minute, 59 seconds with three stages of the Tour remaining, including Sunday's mostly ceremonial finish on the Champs Elysees in Paris.

Dumoulin lost nine seconds to Thomas the day before, when defending champion Chris Froome's hopes of a record-equalling fifth title all but ended for this year. Froome, who had been second, fell 32 seconds behind Dumoulin, whom he had earlier called his Team Sky's "biggest threat."

OVERALL STANDINGS

1. Geraint Thomas (GBR/SKY) 74hrs 21:01.

2. Tom Dumoulin (NED/SUN) at 1:59.

3. Chris Froome (GBR/SKY) 2:31.

4. Primoz Roglic (SLO/LNL) 2:47.

5. Nairo Quintana (COL/MOV) 3:30.

6. Steven Kruijswijk (NED/LNL) 4:19.

7. Mikel Landa (ESP/MOV) 4:34.

8. Romain Bardet (FRA/ALM) 5:13.

9. Dan Martin (IRL/EAU) 6:33.

10. Jakob Fuglsang (DEN/AST) 9:31.

The 18th stage was flat and easy which allowed riders to prepare for the ordeal in the Pyrenees to come. The 200.5-kilometre (124.6-mile) trek from Lourdes to Laruns in Stage 19 features the category 1 Col d'Aspin and two unclassified climbs in the 2,115-meter Col du Tourmalet and 1,709-meter Col d'Aubisque.

A French team finally won a stage, when Arnaud Demare of Groupama-FDJ comfortably claimed a sprint victory on Thursday.

Dumoulin has been waiting all week for a chance to attack, but so far he has found his opportunities limited in the mountains.

"At the moment I need to keep my gunpowder dry and wait for the right moment to attack," the 27-year-old said earlier in the week. "I would have loved to take some time, but I need to wait."

Dumoulin would be closer to Thomas had he not been hit with a 20-second penalty in Stage 6 for straying too close to his team car, benefiting from the draft that pulled him along. Dumoulin was trying to catch up after losing time due to a broken wheel.

Dumoulin, a time trial specialist and strong climber racing for Sunweb, was always likely to emerge as Sky's closest challenger.

Vincenzo Nibali, the 2014 champion, pulled out Thursday after crashing on Alpe d'Huez, and a challenge never materialised from Romain Bardet, Mikel Landa or Nairo Quintana.

Thomas and Froome, helped by the unselfish efforts of teammates Egan Bernal, Michal Kwiatkowski and Wouter Poels, have proved to be unshakeable, albeit until Froome faltered on Wednesday.

Dumoulin, who won the Giro d'Italia last year, has been staying close to and testing the leading Sky riders, while Froome and Thomas have been working together to keep him in check.

Dumoulin had been hoping to get within striking distance - ahead of Saturday's time trial in the penultimate stage from Saint-Pee-Sur-Nivelle to Espelette. As the time trial world champion, he might have had an advantage.

But Thomas' lead is so comfortable, Dumoulin will have to launch a successful attack on Friday, or hope for an unlikely collapse from Thomas. Dumoulin played down his chances of getting close enough to Thomas to maintain any realistic hope of overtaking him in the time trial.

"At this moment, in this condition, Thomas can even beat me in a time trial. To feel safe, I would need to be two minutes in front of him, but that's not going to happen," Dumoulin said.

"So we'll just see how the standings are after tomorrow and I will just go full gas and not be (thinking of) any time differences."



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