Nibali to have surgery, Demare silences critics in Tour stage win

Geraint Thomas a step closer to historic Tour de France victory

"Thomas has been the strongest, and that's the situation now", Dumoulin said. But given the length of the time trial this year, Dumoulin might need to make up time on Friday to have a chance on Saturday. Froome seemed ready for this Tour to end. But he appeared to be close to conceding this title attempt.

Just as Yates got back on his bike, Alaphilippe sped past, looked around at the Englishman and surged ahead.

With a little downhill run still to come before another steep climb to the summit of the hors catégorie Col d'Aubisque, and with Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), his nearest rivals in the general classification, firing off attacks, Thomas heard over the radio that Chris Froome, his domestique de luxe for the day, was in trouble.

Froome was not injured, Sky said. The Spanish Vuelta starts on August 25. Dan Martin made another move, which was enough of an invitation for Nairo Quintana to light up the blue touch paper and the sprightly Colombian clearly had his best legs on, taking 30 seconds out of the yellow jersey group in what had seemed like no time at all.

"I went through some hard moments in the first part of this Tour and lost some time", said Quintana, who is fifth overall.

"I have pain everywhere, but I'm happy that I can still keep racing". "Especially at altitude, as soon as you kick and go deep for five seconds, it can bite you in the arse".

But the penultimate stage features a spiteful profile, including an energy-sapping final climb up the 22 percent gradient Col de Pinodieta, which could be the undoing of many hopefuls within sight of the Champs-Elysees.

Chris Froome tells French policeman to 'f*ck off' after being pulled off his bike

Thomas had been lucky to escape being hauled off his bike by an "overexuberant" fan as he raced to third place at Saint-Lary-Soulan on Wednesday.

Estonian rider Tanel Kangert launched an early solo breakaway and was first over the Montee de Peyragudes, the opening climb.

Team Sky has accepted the incident with the French officer was a mistake, but Tour fans are said to be more cynical, with Froome having been spat at and shoved by angry spectators in previous days amid resentment at Team Sky's dominance of the event.

Tangert was alone in the lead until halfway up the Col du Portet, when Quintana caught him and surged ahead.

Organisers had set up a grid start at the foot of the first climb but, while it often brings excitement in Formula One, it was a forgettable moment here, with the peloton being well-organised after a few hundred metres.

The previous day a number of riders were hit with pepper spray after protesters threw bales of hay onto the road along the route from Carcassonne to Bagneres-de-Luchon.

Demare finished Wednesday's stage second to last but managed to avoid the time cut. His Sky teammate Geraint Thomas was corralled for the post-stage podium ceremony as the yellow jersey going into Saturday's time trial.

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