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Bardet Victorious; GC Stalemate Behind

Romain Bardet took stage 18 of the Tour de France, attacking on the Glandon, and pressing home his advantage.

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It always looked like a likely day for the breakaway, and as in the last couple of days, the fight to get in the group ended with a very large group in the lead. Fuglsang, Rodríguez, Martin, Talansky, Hesjedal, Pauwels, Anacona, Castroviejo, Bardet, Riblon, Bakelants, Caruso, Dennis, Pinot, Preidler, Clement, Plaza, De Gendt, Matthews, Simon Yates, Rolland, Gautier, Sicard, Voeckler, Kreuziger, Rogers, Arredondo, Jungels and Barta the 29 who made the group.

The order of the day was climbing, and the Col Bayard was the first of many climbs taken by Joaquím Rodríguez, the Spaniard, who started the day wearing Chris Froome's KOM jersey made it his own, taking all of the opening climbs, with Serge Pauwels, 4th in that competition also taking some points. However, despite the size of the group, it never had a lead of much more than five minutes, due to several riders in the top 15 being present, and Bauke Mollema's team Trek riding on the front for the first time since E3 Harelbeke along with Warren Barguil's Giant-Alpecin team, to make sure that their team leaders did not lose their positions on GC.

This gave a helping hand to Sky, who only started to ride at full strength on the Col du Glandon, and still the peloton lost time to the breakaway, whose numbers were rapidly dwindling. De Gendt accelerated, but soon was caught on the early slopes on the climb, as Martin, Preidler, Plaza, Pinot and several others fell back, leaving a front group of just eleven.

The first probing acceleration to come from the peloton came from three riders in the lower reaches of the top 10. Mathias Frank attacked with Warren Barguil and Robert Gesink, as Nicolas Roche rode tempo for Sky. They gained 30 seconds quickly.

Soon enough Contador had enough of Nicolas Roche, and decided to attack to gain some of the time he lost yesterday. Quintana looked at Valverde and decided to let him go, and Sky continued to set the same tempo, as the Spaniard gritted his teeth and ploughed on. He caught Gesink's group in now time, and sat at the back to recover for a moment, but in no time at all he had forty seconds as he went to the front to power the group, with a few rather impressive grimaces. They had a minute on the peloton.

Up front, Bardet, Rolland and Fuglsang were in the business of getting a gap on their companions when Fuglsang had a rather remarkable low speed crash, as a motorcycle tried to overtake him and he found himself on the ground. This didn't stop Bardet, however, as the Frenchman crested the Glandon first, and taking all the points that came with it. These points became even more valuable as Joaquím Rodríguez fell back.

In the peloton, the real drama was occurring. Vincenzo Nibali attacked once, and was brought back, but his second attack was better, and it caused Quintana to follow him, as Froome did not react. However, Geraint Thomas did, and Valverde was dropped for the first time in the mountains. Froome crested the mountain within seconds of Contador.

Romain Bardet was attacking the descent, the narrow roads providing no challenge to the Frenchman, who has shown more than once that he is very adept at going down mountains. He dropped his companion Anacona, who crested the Glandon with him, and began building a lead.

The peloton had the same idea, trying to stretch Froome on the narrow descent. Nibali's pushing caught Contador, but Froome held firm. Valverde caught the peloton and Bardet had three minutes at the end of the descent.

Bardet was the first to reach Les Lacets de Montvernier with 42 seconds on the rest of the break. Bob Jungels took it upon himself to bring him back, and he pulled his group, containing Gautier, Rolland and Anacona up the climb. He slowly but surely did bring down the time gap as the group began to fracture, Jungels falling back as Rolland and Anacona gained an advantage. Jakob Fuglsang recovered from his crash, and caught them on the climb.

Behind, it was Tinkoff's turn to attack, as Majka led Contador, but the peloton was wise to it, and Quintana brought them back easily enough. This dropped Mollema, Barguil and Sanchez.

Bardet was the first over Les Lacets, taking him to 68 points and a dotted jersey for tomorrow. Jakob Fuglsang ws giving his all to catch Bardet, back with the chasers, and they crested 42 seconds behind.

Nibali attacked for a third time, followed immediately by Valverde, Contador and Thomas, but all it did was drop Gesink, and the GC contenders finished the day's climbing together.

Rolland attacked the group on the descent, but he always looked unlikely to reel back his compatriot on such terrain, and he pulled out second after second, and his lead looked unassailable with four flat kilometres to go, and indeed it was. Bardet crossed the finish line to win his first stage of the Tour de France, arms raised. Rolland came in second. The GC group came in together, with no real gaps caused yet again.

TOP 10 Stage 18

1. FRABARDET Romain 12 AG2R LA MONDIALE 05h 03' 40''
2. FRAROLLAND Pierre 121 TEAM EUROPCAR 05h 04' 13'' + 00' 33''
3. COLANACONA GOMEZ Winner Andrew 52 MOVISTAR TEAM 05h 04' 39'' + 00' 59''
4. LUXJUNGELS Bob 147 TREK FACTORY RACING 05h 04' 39'' + 00' 59''
5. DENFUGLSANG Jakob 3 ASTANA PRO TEAM 05h 04' 39'' + 00' 59''
6. BELPAUWELS Serge 218 MTN-QHUBEKA 05h 04' 41'' + 01' 01''
7. FRAGAUTIER Cyril 123 TEAM EUROPCAR 05h 05' 30'' + 01' 50''
8. ITACARUSO Damiano 62 BMC RACING TEAM 05h 05' 30'' + 01' 50''
9. USATALANSKY Andrew 161 TEAM CANNONDALE-GARMIN 05h 05' 35'' + 01' 55''
10. FRABARGUIL WARREN 82 TEAM GIANT-ALPECIN 05h 06' 42'' + 03' 02''

Top 10 GC

1. GBRFROOME Christopher 31 TEAM SKY 74h 13' 31''
2. COLQUINTANA ROJAS Nairo Alexander 51 MOVISTAR TEAM 74h 16' 41'' + 03' 10''
3. ESPVALVERDE BELMONTE Alejandro 59 MOVISTAR TEAM 74h 17' 40'' + 04' 09''
4. GBRTHOMAS Geraint 39 TEAM SKY 74h 20' 05'' + 06' 34''
5. ESPCONTADOR Alberto 41 TINKOFF-SAXO 74h 20' 11'' + 06' 40''
6. NEDGESINK Robert 131 TEAM LOTTO NL - JUMBO 74h 21' 10'' + 07' 39''
7. ITANIBALI Vincenzo 1 ASTANA PRO TEAM 74h 21' 35'' + 08' 04''
8. SUIFRANK Mathias 181 IAM CYCLING 74h 22' 18'' + 08' 47''
9. NEDMOLLEMA Bauke 141 TREK FACTORY RACING 74h 25' 37'' + 12' 06''
10. FRABARDET Romain 12 AG2R LA MONDIALE 74h 26' 23'' + 12' 52''