Paris - Double-stage
winner Julian Alaphilippe finished the Tour de France seeing dots while Arnaud Demare answered his critics with a superb
sprint win on Stage 18.
But when it came to challenging for the yellow jersey, the hosts were
left empty-handed again as main hope Romain Bardet failed to launch a
long-hoped-for challenge to a dominant Team Sky.
The last time a Frenchman won the yellow jersey was in 1985, when
Bernard Hinault secured the last of the five wins that left him equal
with Jacques Anquetil and Eddy Merckx before him, and Miguel Indurain
But Bardet, in what appeared to be a dig at his AG2R team's inability
to match the peloton's pace-setters, was defiant in defeat.
"As the years go by, the higher the standards get and the more people
expect of me," he said on Saturday, a day before ending his race nearly
seven minutes behind yellow jersey champion Geraint Thomas.
"But I still battle through it. I do my best possible with what I'm being given to do the job."
Labelled a yellow jersey contender after finishing third in 2017 and
runner-up to Chris Froome a year earlier, Bardet's challenge suffered a
series of blows before reaching the business end of the race.
Team-mate Tony Gallopin, a key helper in the mountains, pulled out
during the gruelling 12th stage to Alpe d'Huez, following team-mates
Alexis Vuillermoz (injury) and Axel Domont (retired) in abandoning.
It left him with five riders, and comparatively scant support for the
remaining mountain stages, although Bardet was not the only credible
challenger to Thomas to concede defeat.
Movistar pair Nairo Quintana, of Colombia, and Spaniard Mikel Landa
were also lacking when it came to loosening Sky's grip on a race they
approached with intensity in a bid to tire out their rivals.
After Australian Richie Porte, of BMC, crashed out before it got to
the mountains, only Dutchman Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) came close, before
finishing the race in second at 1:51 behind Thomas.
Bardet tried, the Frenchman launching his last salvo in the 19th
stage, which took the peloton from Lourdes over famous Cols like the
Tourmalet, Aspin and Aubisque, in a bid to save his increasingly
unlikely bid for the podium.
But his effort, 100km from the finish, needed more than a blessing and a prayer against a relentless Sky team.
After the British outfit caught the early breakaway, Bardet was among
a seven-man bunch that included Thomas to finish 19secs behind.
It left Quick Step rider Alaphilippe, who claimed the 'King of the
Mountains' polka dot jersey and two stage wins, as the darling of the
"It was incredible all the way," said Alaphilippe after a 31km time
trial on Saturday in which he soaked up the applause over every inch.
"Slowly but surely, I realise what the polka dot jersey brings. It's completely crazy. I thank the public.
"I'm looking forward to celebrate it with my team. But I don't want
to be carried away. I still have a lot more things to achieve in