“I did not fight for nothing in the mountains, I was thinking of a possible victory when I was suffering,”
Arnaud Demare silenced his critics by claiming a comfortable win in the bunch sprint of the 18th stage of the Tour de France yesterday, the first victory this year for a French team in the race.
The Frenchman, who had been accused by fellow sprint specialist André Greipel of holding on to his team car in Wednesday’s mountain stage to avoid missing the time cut, was perfectly set up by Italian teammate Jacopo Guarnieri.
He beat compatriot Christophe Laporte and Norway’s Alexander Kristoff, who were second and third respectively as Briton Geraint Thomas retained the overall leader’s yellow jersey after 171km from Trie sur Baize.
“I did not fight for nothing in the mountains, I was thinking of a possible victory when I was suffering,” said Groupama-FDJ rider Demare.
“Today I thought of him,” said Demare of Greipel, who abandoned the race last week along with several other top sprinters, exhausted by extreme heat and gruelling efforts in the mountains.
Demare grit his teeth though the mountain stages, narrowly avoiding missing the time cut on a couple of occasions. “I had good legs and today all the hard work I did paid off,” he said.
“I stayed strong in my head. (Cheating) is not my philosophy. I gave everything, I worked super hard in the mountains ahead of the Tour de France. Several sprinters are home today and I’m still here. I deserved this victory, the whole team deserved it for their hard work.”
World champion Peter Sagan did not contest the final sprint after his crash on Wednesday left him in pain.
The only incident in an otherwise dull stage raced in searing hot temperatures came 105km from the finish when Colombian Nairo Quintana, fifth overall after his stage win on Wednesday, hit the asphalt when he and Briton Adam Yates were caught in a pile-up.