Groupama-FDJ’s Demare outsprinted Christophe Laporte of Cofidis and Alexander Kristoff of UAE Team Emirates to claim his second career Tour win and the first this year at the end of a 171km stage from Trie-sur-Baise to Pau.
Team Sky’s Thomas crossed the line with the front group to ensure he holds on to his advantage of one minute and 59 seconds over Tom Dumoulin of Team Sunweb going into Friday’s mountain test in the Pyrenees.
The first sprint stage since Friday was contested by a vastly depleted field of sprint men following the exits of Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, Andre Greipel, Fernando Gaviria, Dylan Groenewegen and Michael Matthew at various points in the Tour so far.
World champion Peter Sagan, who crashed heavily on Wednesday’s stage, was active in the finale but eventually finished eighth.
“I didn’t battle all this time for nothing, I didn’t give up in the mountains,” said a relieved Demare, who had to fight through some tough mountain stages to avoid missing the time cut.
The Frenchman said he was also inspired by comments made by German rival Andre Greipel, who accused him of holding on to a car to make it through the mountains. “I was thinking about Greipel,” he added.
After the drama of the past two days in the mountains, this was a largely uneventful stage, no doubt welcome to those still with an eye on the fight for yellow.
Wednesday’s stage winner Nairo Quintana of Movistar was caught in a crash along with Mitchelton-Scott’s Adam Yates with 105km to go but they were soon back on their bikes.
With 16km left, the last remnants of a five-man breakaway which had never been afforded much of a lead was finally reeled in as the lead-out trains went to work on the approach to Pau.
Although there had been suggestions Sagan was struggling to continue in the race – needing only to reach Paris to secure his sixth green jersey – his Bora-Hansgrohe team were on the front inside the final three kilometres. However, he did not have the power to keep up with Demare and others.
Tour de France stage 18 result
1. Arnaud Demare (Fra) Groupama-FDJ, 3hrs 46mins 50secs
2. Christophe Laporte (Fra) Cofidis, same time
3. Alexander Kristoff (Nor) UAE Team Emirates, “
4. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Dimension Data, “
5. Sonny Colbrelli (Ita) Bahrain-Merida, “
6. Maximiliano Richeze (Arg) Quick-Step Floors, “
7. John Degenkolb (Ger) Trek-Segafredo, “
8. Peter Sagan (Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe, “
9. Taylor Phinney (USA) EF Education First-Drapac, “
10. Timothy Dupont (Bel) Wanty-Groupe Gobert, “
General classification after stage 18
1. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky, 74hrs 21mins 01sec
2. Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb, +1min 59secs
3. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky, +2mins 31secs
4. Primoz Roglic (Slo) LottoNL-Jumbo, +2mins 47secs
5. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team, +3mins 30secs
6. Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo, +4mins 19secs
7. Mikel Landa (Spa) Movistar Team, +4mins 34secs
8. Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale, +5mins 13secs
9. Daniel Martin (Irl) UAE Team Emirates, +6mins 33secs
10. Jakob Fuglsang (Den) Astana Pro Team, +9mins 31secs
Follow live coverage of stage 19 of the Tour de France, a 200.5km route across the Pyrenees, on skysports.com and mobile app tomorrow from 11am