Alaphilippe at the double as Thomas eyes Tour's crucial 17th stage

Sagan just hopes to survive stage 19 after 'painful ride'

The big challenge is [Friday's] mountain stage.

The gendarme knocked the 33-year-old Team Sky star over and grabbed him by the arm shortly after he had finished stage 17 of the gruelling race.

Brailsford said Thomas's clash was more concerning than Froome's. In recent head-to-head clashes between the two, Dumoulin has shown himself capable of taking nearly two seconds per kilometre out of Thomas in the discipline, suggesting Thomas needs a cushion of at least a minute to feel secure. "We've just got to look after him now", he added, seemingly conceding defeat.

Froome was first put in difficulty when Primoz Roglic attacked with 2.5 km to go, and then was dropped for good when Dumoulin accelerated at the 2K banner.

Welshman Thomas will start Thursday's 18th stage, a mainly flat 171 km ride from Trie-sur-Blaise to Pau with a 1:59 lead on Sunweb team leader Dumoulin, with Froome in third.

Dumoulin, who won the Giro d'Italia previous year, has been staying close to and testing the leading Sky riders, while Froome and Thomas have been working together to keep him in check.

There were also fears over Froome's safety before the Tour began. He was cleared of doping five days before the Tour.

"Obviously there is some frustration with how our Tour de France has gone, but you've seen how we bounced back from each stage ... tomorrow we'll go again", Durbridge said. 'For me, so far it has not been possible to gain time on him'.

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"That was a hard crash but, fortunately, I haven't broken anything and I feel confident about the last four stages of @LeTour". "But I am not going to change my approach".

Bardet lost all hope of a podium finish after he struggled on the Col du Portet on Wednesday, but he showed considerable resilience here to remain a part of the front group amid the low clouds atop the Col d'Aubisque.

Measuring 16 km at an average gradient of almost nine percent, organizers rated the Col du Portet as the second-hardest climb in Tour history after Mont Ventoux.

In many ways Team Sky's high tempo style of catenaccio climbing suits riders like Thomas, Dumoulin and Roglic with their highly refined power-to-weight ratios, while it dissuades the more explosive climbers, such as Nairo Quintana and Romain Bardet. It wasn't as if I was picked out of a group of riders and singled out, it was just a misunderstanding.

The top riders had their numbers pasted on the road to indicate their grid positions. "It's the first time I've ridden for GC (general classification)".

Thomas is just two stages from knowing whether he will become the third British rider to win the Tour de France in seven years - a period of dominance that once seemed improbable. He has some cuts, some scrapes, a torn jersey.

Elia Viviani (QuickStep Floors) leads the way, while Caleb Ewan (Mitchelton-Scott) will have a point to prove after his surprise omission from his team's Tour squad.

We could also see the yellow jersey contenders take their last punches at Thomas before Saturday's time trial.

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