• Warren Barguil claimed Sunweb's fourth Tour stage win. (Getty)Source: Getty
Warren Barguil (Team Sunweb) claimed his second win of the 2017 Tour de France atop the Col d'Izoard, launching off the front of the group of favourites and sweeping up the breakaway to claim a famous victory.
Cycling Central

21 Jul 2017 - 1:59 AM  UPDATED 21 Jul 2017 - 5:21 AM

Chris Froome and Team Sky fought off a number of tough challenges to the yellow jersey to keep the defending champion in the lead after the final mountain stage of the Tour. 

The action heated up on the final two climbs of the stage, with the pace pushed by AG2R, looking to set up their team leader, Romain Bardet, for a chance at moving into the yellow jersey.

Attacks came in the final five kilometres of the climb, with Barguil surging clear when a brief lull came in the main bunch. He then proceeded to sweep up the remnants of the early breakaway, finally catching and passing the leader on the road, Darwin Atapuma (UAE Team Emirates), and dropping him enroute to victory.

"I was waiting for the steep part," said Barguil, "I was was thinking of taking some time off Contador (Trek-Segafredo), maybe winning one spot (on the general classification). Then he followed me, we came back to Mollema (Bauke Mollema, Contador's teammate). I heard him say 'slower' to Mollema and I just passed him and did my best to the top. In the last kilometre I see Atapuma, I was behind him last year in the Tour de Suisse and I couldn't close the gap, today I made it. It's just crazy."

Barguil has had a brilliant Tour, raising hopes for the French public that, together with the likes of Bardet and Arnaud Demare (FDJ), they have a golden generation of talent coming through.

"It's really fantastic, I can't even believe... it's a dream for me," said Barguil. "Yesterday I was saying to Michael (Matthews) we were thinking of having a stage win and going for the green jersey. We would never have dreamed to have the polka dot and green jerseys, one stage for me and two for him... now it's two-two. It's just unbelievable."

Behind Barguil, the battle for the yellow jersey was fast and furious, an attack from Bardet was countered by Froome, whilst Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac) hung tough to keep in touch. All the other contenders fell by the wayside, but Bardet couldn't drop Froome and had to settle for the consolation of third place bonus seconds on the line, making up four seconds on Froome and Uran, moving the French star into second overall.

Froome now holds a 23-second lead on Bardet and a 29-second gap to Uran and will go in as the near-unbackable favourite to wear yellow in Paris with his noted time-trial ability.

"Of course it would have been nice to take some time today," said Froome, "but all-in-all I'm pretty happy with how things went today. Two seconds over Uran, who I think will be my main rival in the time trial, I'm pretty happy with that. The team was fantastic in the final, it's great having the numbers to control things. It's all still to race for in the final time-trial in Marseille."

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As it happened

With the Col d'Izoard looming on the horizon and with only one Category 3 climb and a Category 1 climb before the hors categorie ascent to the summit finish of the race, there was a big fight to get into the early breakaway.

After some skirmishing off the front, there was a massive split in the peloton, with a 51-rider group going clear from the main bunch. A number of attacks attempted to distance the rest of the break, with Thomas de Gendt (Lotto Soudal) particularly active in trying to force a smaller selection.

The action drove the pace in the group, stretching the break's advantage to over eight minutes as the riders hit the intermediate sprint point. Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) took out the 20 points on offer, enough to move the Italian into third in the competition, leapfrogging Alexander Kristoff (Katusha-Alpecin) in the Green Jersey standings.

Coming into the ascent of the Col de Vars, those who didn't fancy their chances against the top climbers broke away, forming a working group of 24 riders trying for the stage victory. Romain Sicard (Direct Energie) and Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) managed to escape on the climb, going clear with one kilometre left from the top and 51 remaining on the stage. Atapuma and Tony Gallopin (Lotto Soudal) bridged up to join the front pair.

Behind them, AG2R took it upon themselves to make it a hard race on the climbs, driving the pace and really thinning down the main bunch.

The riders reached the foot of the Col d'Izoard, a climb that gradually gets more and more severe in gradient until the final five kilometres of climbing. The break up front was rejoined by some of the riders chasing behind, with Lutsenko counterattacking and again going up the road, this time with Nicolas Edet (Cofidis). 

Lutsenko quickly dropped Edet and continued on his lone voyage up the road. The riders began attacking behind, with Gallopin trying to make up the gap to the Kazak rider as the peloton closed in relentlessly. Atapuma began his charge late, passing Gallopin and heading off in pursuit of Lutsenko. He passed Lutsenko with six and half kilometres left, and from there he just had to hold off the big climbers in the peloton.

Barguil attacked a splintering group of favourites and Contador immediately jumped on his wheel. Team Sky reassumed control on the front of the peloton and began to set the pace up the climb with Michael Kwiatkowski.

Barguil swept up the remnants of the break as he powered up the climb, dropping Contador in the process. Accelerations from the main bunch of contenders saw Fabio Aru (Astana) yo-yoing off the back of the other favourites, struggling to stay in touch. As Kwiatkowski brought Contador back, he swung off and Landa took up the pace. He caught the group unawares, and quickly got a gap, surging clear.

Bardet attacked, only Froome and Uran could follow. Before they could settle into a rhythm, Froome counter-attacked over the top, with Uran and Bardet scrambling to get back on terms. Froome's attack dragged him up to Landa, who took over the pace-making duties for the group of four.

Up front, Barguil caught Atapuma and dropped him, muscling his way to the top as he stamped up the final metres of the Col d'Izoard. He was triumphant over the top, however, saluting to the sky as he crossed the line.

A furious late attack from Bardet wasn't enough to distance Froome on the run-in to the line, with the Kenyan-born rider sticking to the Frenchman's wheel in the sprint, though Bardet did get the consolation of finishing third and claimed the four bonus seconds on offer. 

Stage 18 Winners