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Thomas keeps Tour lead

PAU, France (AFP) – Frenchman Arnaud Demare silenced his critics with a superb sprint finish that grabbed him victory over compatriot Christophe Laporte in the 18th stage of the Tour de France on Thursday.

Britain’s Geraint Thomas finished close behind to tighten his grip on the yellow jersey three days before the 21st and final stage in Paris.

The Welshman holds a 1min 59sec lead on Dutch rival Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) with his Sky teammate and four-time champion Chris Froome in third at 2:31 heading into Friday’s 19th stage.

“I think we’re expecting the worst, hoping for the best,” said Thomas, who is expecting attacks from his rivals on the final day in the mountains Friday.

Froome, notably, is expected to come under attack by Primoz Roglic as the Slovenian, in fourth 16secs behind him, targets a podium place in Paris.

Thomas added: “I think guys will try to take any opportunity they can. It will be interesting, but we’ve been riding really well all race.”

What was the penultimate chance for a diminished sprint field to snatch some glory was not going to be missed by the fast men of the peloton.

And a day after Slovakian sprint king Peter Sagan suffered injuries in a crash that almost ended his campaign, Demare capitalised.

His Groupama team worked hard, first in easily chasing down an early five-man breakaway, and particularly in the final, technical kilometres of the stage to make sure Demare was primed for a final burst to the line.

But the Frenchman, who angered Laporte by veering from his line when he sprinted from just inside 200 metres, was also inspired by comments aimed at him by Germany’s Andre Greipel.

Greipel, one of several sprinters to pull out in the Alps, while others, like Mark Cavendish and Marcel Kittel, missed the time cut, accused Demare of holding on to a car to make it through the mountains on stage 17.

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