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CYCLING’S big spenders save face as Aussie star refuses to surrender to bad luck, writes JOHN TREVORROW:

STAGE 18 was most likely the last chance for many teams to win a stage of this year’s amazing Tour de France.

Stage 19 is almost certain to be dominated by the sprinters’ teams and the ongoing battle for the green jersey and I can’t see anybody beating either of the Slovenians in the Stage 20 individual time trial. And the finale into Paris on stage 21 should see the sprinters teams again take control.

So this was going to be the final opportunity for one of the13 teams who have not won a stage to get on the scoreboard.

It was no surprise to see Ineos Grenadiers put four riders in the early break of more than 30 riders. The British team may have the biggest budget in the sport, but they have been very disappointing in this Tour. Of course they obviously had all their eggs in the Egan Bernal basket, but once the defending champion was out, they definitely needed a stage win to save some face.  

Ecuadorian Richard Carapaz had given it a real crack in the two previous stages and I was surprised to see him up the front again. But he is a brilliant rider and as the winner of the last Giro d’Italia I shouldn’t have underestimated him. He put serious pressure on over the first major climb and pretty soon all the pretenders were gone and it looked a race of four. Teamate Michal Kwiatkowski, the Polish former world road champion, revelation of the race Marc Hirschi (Team Sunweb) and Pello Bilbao (Bahrain McLaren) rode clear over the Col des Saisies.

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It looked as if the Ineos duo were going to have to come up with a very strong tactical plan to beat the young Swiss star but then with 80 km still to travel, Hirschi laid it down on a tight corner and that was it. The Ineos machine was back in business. Carapaz and Kwiatkowski are reportedly on excess of two million euro each, and they produced a money can’t buy exhibition of team riding to rid themselves of the pesky Bilbao and ride away to a face-saving victory for Ineos and Kwiatkowski’s first ever stage win. 

The indestructible Wout van Aert (Jumbo Visma) outsprinted the remnants of the main group for third place. Quite outstanding when you look at the work this powerhouse had done on the stage.   

It was terrible luck for Hirschi who was proving too strong on the climbs and looked set to take the lead in the race for the polka dot jersey of best mountain climber.  Carapaz has now taken the jersey from Tadej Pogacar (UAE Emirates) by only two points.

Back in the main peloton, Jumbo Visma looked in control of the race for the GC. All the main protagonists seemed happy to recover from the previous day’s brutality. That was until an untimely puncture hit Richie Porte at the worst possible moment in the stage.  on the gravel section at the top of the Col des Gileres with 30 km still to travel. With no teammate near and all team cars stuck behind in the dust, Porte had to keep riding with a flat front tyre on a winding dirt road. It was painful to watch and when he finally grabbed a new bike from his support vehicle, he had dropped about 40 seconds.

As it had become a four-way fight for that final podium spot, the three riders who were most keen to keep Richie at bay where Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana), Enric Mas (Movistar) and Mikel Landa (Bahrain McLaren). They immediately put the hammer down and it looked like Porte’s dream of a final podium might be over. But then Jumbo Visma came to the rescue albeit for their own reasons. Wout van Aert and Tom Dumoulin were also chasing to regain contact and with big Tom also trying to hang on to his top 10 position they formed a strong trio and managed to claw their way back.

Porte has managed to hold onto his fourth spot overall and Saturday’s 36 km time trial will be a nail-biter between him and Lopez for that final podium spot. Richie is the much better than the Colombian against the clock and can be expected to gain more than a minute from Lopez on the first flat 30 kms. But it’s the final 6 kms up to the summit finish of La Planche des Belles Filles that will decide. 

And it will be the same for the Yellow Jersey. Roglic looks to be in control but Pogacar beat him to take the recent Slovenian national time trial title so will take some confidence from that. It will be a battle Royal.

Aussie pocket rocket Caleb Ewan (Lotto Soudal) has managed to conquer the giant mountains of this very challenging tour and looks all set to defend his brilliant victory of the final stage into Paris on Sunday.

Stage 18

1Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Ineos Grenadiers04:47:33
2Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Ineos Grenadiers
3Wout van Aert (Bel) Team Jumbo-Visma00:01:51
4Primoz Roglic (Slo) Team Jumbo-Visma00:01:53
5Tadej Pogacar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates00:01:53
6Richie Porte (Aus) Trek-Segafredo00:01:54
7Enric Mas Nicolau (Spa) Movistar Team00:01:54
8Mikel Landa Meana (Spa) Bahrain McLaren00:01:54
9Damiano Caruso (Ita) Bahrain McLaren00:01:54
10Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Jumbo-Visma00:01:54
11Sepp Kuss (USA) Team Jumbo-Visma00:01:54
12Miguel Angel Lopez Moreno (Col) Astana Pro Team00:01:54
13Marc Hirschi (Swi) Team Sunweb00:02:04
14Pello Bilbao (Spa) Bahrain McLaren00:02:04
15Simon Geschke (Ger) CCC Team00:04:32
16Nans Peters (Fra) AG2R la Mondiale00:04:32
17Adam Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott00:04:34
18Guillaume Martin (Fra) Cofidis00:04:34
19Rigoberto Uran (Col) EF Pro Cycling00:04:34
20Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team00:04:34

GC after stage 18

1Primoz Roglic (Slo) Team Jumbo-Visma79:45:30
2Tadej Pogacar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates00:00:57
3Miguel Angel Lopez Moreno (Col) Astana Pro Team00:01:27
4Richie Porte (Aus) Trek-Segafredo00:03:06
5Mikel Landa Meana (Spa) Bahrain McLaren00:03:28
6Enric Mas Nicolau (Spa) Movistar Team00:04:19
7Adam Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott00:05:55
8Rigoberto Uran (Col) EF Pro Cycling00:06:05
9Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Jumbo-Visma00:07:24
10Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team00:12:12
11Damiano Caruso (Ita) Bahrain McLaren00:12:31
12Guillaume Martin (Fra) Cofidis00:13:16
13Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Ineos Grenadiers00:17:48
14Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Arkea-Samsic00:28:03
15Sepp Kuss (USA) Team Jumbo-Visma00:35:54
16Pello Bilbao (Spa) Bahrain McLaren00:53:33
17Nairo Quintana (Col) Team Arkea-Samsic00:57:49
18Pierre Rolland (Fra) B&B Hotels-Vital Concept01:00:13
19Carlos Verona Quintanilla (Spa) Movistar Team01:11:30
20Wout van Aert (Bel) Team Jumbo-Visma01:19:57

Author: John Trevorrow

JOHN TREVORROW is a multiple Australian champion road racer and Olympian who has been doing media commentary at the Tour de France for more than 20 years.



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