• Chris Froome held his advantage over his rivals after Stage 18 (Getty Images) (Getty Images Europe)Source: Getty Images Europe
Froome’s challengers are running out of opportunities to claw back time on the overall leader, with Movistar and Tinkoff-Saxo unable to shake the Brit on the mountainous Stage 18.
By
Cycling Central

24 Jul 2015 - 7:03 AM  UPDATED 24 Jul 2015 - 7:08 AM

The second of four stages in the Alps featured seven rated climbs, including the Hors Category Glandon and the Category 2 Lacets de Montvernier before the Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne's finish.

Despite strong efforts from the remaining general classification contenders a diminished group of favourites, including Sky’s Froome and Geraint Thomas, who is fourth overall, made it to the finish line together. They completed the journey 3min 2sec behind stage winner Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale.)

Bardet masters the climbs for Tour stage victory
Frenchman Romain Bardet made a winning attack from long range to win the mountainous Stage 18 of the Tour de France.

The route provided ample opportunity for Movistar’s Nairo Quintana and Alejandro Valverde to extend their presence on the GC podium. The pair consolidated their positions as second and third overall, but were unable to reduce the deficit to Froome who retained his 3min 10sec advantage over Quintana.  

Two short-lived moves from the Valverde and Quintana and bigger attacks from Vencenzo Nibali (Astana) and Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo) caused Valverde, working in aid of Quintana, to briefly drop back before the summit of the Glandon. 

'Bala' used his downhill abilities to bridge back to the group and maintain his GC podium position as the select group tackled the steep switchbacks of the Lacets de Montvernier. 

“I had to close a couple of gaps and was suffering from a bit of flatus, so I had to reduce my speed for a bit and take some air,” said Valverde explaining why he briefly disappeared from the chase.  

“I knew I would be back into the group after the downhill. I crested really close to them, about 10 seconds down, got back into the group and everyone could see that everything was alright afterwards, it didn't go further.

“It was a really demanding day and we got through it safely; there are two really important (stages) still left, short stages yet enormously demanding, and I hope to recover well. We came here to fight for victory with Nairo and if I make the GC podium, it will be fantastic, but I have a clear role and goal and I'll follow it until the end,” he said.

Valverde’s stomach issues meant Quintana eased off the pace as well, unwilling to fight Froome without his Spanish wingman. “Alejandro suffered sort of a small crisis there and we had to ride more cautiously so we could get him back into the group and recovered,” said the Colombian who went on to explain that the profiles of the next two stages demanded different tactics once again.

“We hope tomorrow's stage will be a good one for us; mountains remaining in this Tour are different and we had to remain a bit more calm today, because no real differences could be made at the finish considering the final profile.

“It's really important for me to have Alejandro close - he always helps me out, closing the gaps and with everything. We'll play our cards differently tomorrow."

Contador was another rider who went on the attack during the 186.5km stage from Gap to St-Jean-De-Maurienne, in an effort to literally climb up the leaderboard from his current fifth position.

Having suffered a downhill crash a mere 24 hours earlier, the Tinkoff-Saxo captain deployed a series of accelerations on Col de Glandon.

"This was one of the toughest days on the bike. I wanted to try things and see what could be done but at the end we didn't achieve anything in particular.

“I dropped Valverde on Glandon, this always brings confidence but the only thing I now focus on is to recover. It was a very hard stage and my attacks were more driven by the heart than the legs. I was able to observe a few things and we will now see how I recover for tomorrow.

In order for Valverde not to be on the podium, a catastrophe must take place. He has an incredible opportunity and just by doing things the right way it’s impossible for him not to reach the podium. The sport of cycling is like this and we will have to take it day by day.” - Alberto Contador.

Movistar’s sport director, Eusebio Unzué, also showed he has all but resigned to the GC leaderboard remaining largely unchanged over the final critical stages of the three-week race.

“Froome didn't make any mistakes today, just as during the rest of the Tour, where he hasn't cracked nor committed errors into the descents,” said Unzué.

“He's always controlled his rivals well, and we can only hope that the wear and tear of these stages pays a bigger impact on him during the weekend and we profit from that. Yet, he's a well-deserved GC leader.”

Stage 19, a ‘short’ 138km, will feature the Category 1 Chaussy right from the start and the Hors Category Croix de Fer and the Category 2 Mollard together near the end. It will conclude with the long La Toussuire (Category 1) as a mountain-top finish.

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