Tour de France: Geraint Thomas extends lead ahead of final time trial
Geraint Thomas took another huge step toward winning the 2018 Tour de France, finishing strongly in the final mountain stage to take an overall lead of 2 minutes, 5 five seconds going into Saturday's time trial.
Stage 19 was won by Slovenian rider Primoz Roglic, who finished 19 seconds ahead of Chris Froome to move from fourth to third overall, taking the defending champion's position in general classification.
Friday's route from Lourdes in the southwest of France was the final mountain stage of this year's Tour, and was Thomas' penultimate test ahead of Saturday's time trial.
The 200-km stage featured six categorized climbs, culminating in a final 20-kilometer decent to Laruns. A large group of riders broke away from the peloton early on, settling at 18 riders ahead of the first serious climb of the day to Col D'Aspin.
Among them was polka dot jersey wearer Julian Alaphilippe, Adam Yates and Damien Gaudin, who won the day's intermediate sprint, but contained none of Thomas's general classification rivals. It was Alaphilippe who won the climb, mathematically securing his King of the Mountain title.
As Alaphilippe continued to lead heading into the ascent to Col du Tourmalet, more and more riders from the original breakaway group began to fall away. Behind them, Mikel Landa and Romain Bardet, who started the day seventh and eighth overall respectively, had broken away from Thomas and were closing the gap in pursuit.
Alaphilippe reached the top of Col du Tourmalet first, and with the polka dot jersey absolutely secure, the French rider relinquished the lead. Landa and Bardet, meanwhile, had joined the front of the race and with 48 kilometers to go were three minutes ahead of the peleton, second and third in virtual general classification.
The pace of the peloton quickened as the riders reached the top of Col des Bordères and began the final climb of the day to Col d'Aubisque.
Thomas' rivals knew they had to make their move. With Landa and Bardet already at the front of the pack, Steven Kruijswijk, who was sixth overall at the start of the day, attacked and started to pull away from the peloton. That forced Tom Dumoulin and Roglic to also make their move, which Thomas had to follow. Froome couldn't keep up at first, but was back with his Team Sky teammate with a two-kilometer climb to go.
In the end it was Rafal Majka who reached the top of Col d'Aubisque first and who led the pack of general classification contenders down the mist-covered descent to Laruns.
Even though the riders zoomed down the mountain at frightening speed, Thomas looked secure. All he had to do was stay alongside Dumoulin to take a substantial lead into the team trial. Froome's poisiton on the podium was less secure, as Roglic took the lead on the downhill, trying to close the overall 16-second gap between himself and the 2017 champion.
Roglic accelerated further as he reached Laruns and crossed the line 19 seconds ahead of the rest of the pack to move up to third overall. Thomas was next to finish after sprinting ahead of Bardet and Dan Martin to take the bonus seconds, extending his lead.
The yellow jersey is Thomas' to lose -- and that doesn't look likely.
1. Primož Roglic (SLO) Team LottoNL - Jumbo 5:28:17
2. Geraint Thomas (GBR) Team Sky +19
3. Romain Bardet (FRA) AG2R La Mondiale "
4. Daniel Martin (IRL) UAE Team Emirates "
5. Rafal Majka (POL) BORA - hansgrohe "
1. Geraint Thomas (GBR) Team Sky 79:49:31
2. Tom Dumoulin (NED) Team Sunweb +2:05
3. Primož Roglic (SLO) Team LottoNL - Jumbo +2:24
4. Chris Froome (GBR) Team Sky +2:37