Geraint Thomas insists another Tour de France title is still within his grasp, despite dropping to third place in the overall race classification.
The defending champion lost no time on leader Julian Alaphilippe, but the Welshman’s Ineos team-mate Egan Bernal has leapfrogged into second place after a dramatic Stage 18 in The Alps.
Thomas is now five seconds behind Bernal and still 1 minute 30 seconds behind Alaphilippe with two more racing days to come.
“There are two big, big days now,” said Thomas. “So obviously, we knew it would be hard to do anything to drop Alaphilippe today, but it was a big day and there’s two more big days to come.”
Nairo Quintana road to a stunning stage victory in Valloire as Bernal raced away from Thomas while they both tried to shake off Alaphilippe on the Galibier.
Bernal attacked around three kilometres from the summit of the famed climb and pulled out a lead of 32 seconds over the much-reduced group of favourites to move himself up from fifth to second overall.
Thomas had tried a dig of his own, bursting off the front of the group with around two kilometres of the climb but this time Thibaut Pinot and Steven Kruijswijk responded, catching him by the summit, with the effort perhaps only serving to limit Bernal’s time gains.
Thomas added: “Unfortunately we ran out of guys and it didn’t seem quite hard enough so the call was made for Egan to jump, Hopefully, that would kick it off – but it didn’t really.
“We were on a nice road, they were kind of just riding tempo again in the group I was in. That’s when I had a little dig to just see what would happen.
“They obviously followed me over the top, but I think it was a good day for Egan gaining some time.”
Jumbo-Visma’s Kruijswijk dropped one place to fourth, one minute and 47 seconds down, three seconds ahead of Groupama-FDJ’s Pinot in fifth.
Alaphilippe will be happy to have hung on for one more day, but his rivals will have taken note of his struggles on the climb as he quickly lost time before the downhill finish worked in his favour.
With summit finishes to come on each of the next two days, others will be confident he is finally cracking after a remarkable run in yellow.
After stage 19 tomorrow, the Tour continues with his last classification test, a summit finish at Val Thorens. The race ends with a traditional sprint stage in Paris on Sunday.