Arnaud Demare, last place in the Pyrenees, wins Tour de France stage

Slovenia's Primoz Roglic crosses the finish line

"Obviously, it hurt me enormously and everybody close to me and the team", Demare said.

Wearing a gray rain jacket over his Team Sky kit and riding his race bike with the No.1 on his frame tag, Froome exchanged words with the gendarme.

"Thomas has been the strongest, and that's the situation now", Dumoulin said.

But Dumoulin will feel he needs to take at least a minute off Thomas's advantage heading into the time trial, a discipline in which he is the reigning world champion. Froome seemed ready for this Tour to end. I think we're in a great position.

They only had to control Dumoulin and Lotto Jumbo rider Roglic, who launched a series of attacks in the closing kilometres that put Froome in trouble. With Alejandro Valverde and Mikel Landa on his side, Quintana can challenge Thomas, Chris Froome, and the rest of the Sky climbing crew.

Sticking his tongue out in apparent exhaustion, it was a strong signal that Froome has reached his limit after winning the last three Grand Tours - the Tour and Spanish Vuelta a year ago and the Giro d'Italia in May.

"G has ridden such an awesome race and he deserves to be in yellow - and, fingers crossed, he holds it now until Paris", said Froome. He was cleared of doping five days before the Tour.

It was Quintana's second career stage victory in the Tour, having also won a leg in 2013.

He said he has been repeatedly spat at since the race started, and spectators have punched him and tried to make him fall off his bike.

Froome crashes after police mistake him for TDF fan
But with only 5 kilometers of descent to go, Yates crashed turning a corner and could only watch as Alaphilippe flew past. Great Britain's Geraint Thomas , right, wearing the leader's yellow jersey, and other riders wait for the race to resume.

"It's fantastic. I'm really happy", added Alaphilippe, who also had some kind words for teammate Philippe Gilbert.

Thomas will at least have the support of four-time victor Froome, who admitted he was now riding for his friend and team-mate after he lost time during Wednesday's 17th stage, falling to third.

The three-time defending word champion crashed on the descent from Col de Val Louron-Azet, the second climb of the day, but made it to the finish line despite needing medical treatment.

The unprecedented finish on the Col du Portet above Saint-Lary-Soulan at an altitude of 2,215 meters marked the highest point of this year's race.

Froome was among a large group of riders whose eyes needed treatment due to the tear gas.

Nairo Quintana, victor of Stage 17 into Saint-Lary-Soulan, will also fancy his chances to challenge Team Sky's hegemony at the Tour de France.

At only 65km long - a nod to the number of the French department featuring the start and finish - and with three punishing climbs, a spectacular day of racing looked to be on the menu.

He was fit enough to return to the peloton on stage 18 and briefly threatened to challenge for the victory before Arnaud Demare finished with a flourish. Tomorrow's time-trial remains to be raced, but from here to the podium on the Champs Elysees, the road itself has no more obstacles for him to overcome.

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