Tour de France rider Froome accosted by police

Team Sky leader Froome a four-time champion finished the stage in eighth place at 1min 35sec behind Colombian winner Nairo Quintana and 48secs behind teammate and overall leader Geraint Thomas

Thomas was next to finish after sprinting ahead of Bardet and Dan Martin to take the bonus seconds, extending his lead.

An imposing route will take the riders over three-quarters of the so-called "Circle of Death" as they tackle the Aspin, Tourmalet and Aubisque on a 200km stage from Lourdes to Laruns, and fireworks are expected before Saturday's time trial provides the final sort-out in the general classification. And hope Team Sky do the rest. It will be a big test (for me) but I think it's more one for the team to control it most of the day.

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.

"With no space to park the team buses at the top of the summit finish of the Col du Portet, riders had to turn around at the finish and descend back down the way they had climbed in order to reach the buses midway down the mountain".

And efforts rivals spend trying to loosen his grip on a yellow jersey gained following back-to-back stage wins in the Alps could, he believes, be paid for in the penultimate stage time trial over 31 km.

Thomas added: "I think guys will try to take any opportunity they can".

Points classification leader Peter Sagan, who endured a hard time on Wednesday, took charge with about 10km to go but as the Slovakian dropped back, Demare saw his chance and powered through to pip his compatriot Christophe Laporte by a whisker.

It was also the first time French riders finished one-two in a Tour sprint since 1978, when Jacques Esclassan finished ahead of Yvon Bertin in Saint-Amand-les-Eaux.

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But at almost two minutes down, the Dutchman conceded: "My victory chances are slim".

The duo, desperate to deliver a result for the Australian team that's endured its share of misfortune, helped the group to a maximum two and a half minute advantage.

The only incident in an otherwise tiresome stage raced in searing hot temperatures came 105km from the finish when Colombian Nairo Quintana, fifth overall after his stage win on Wednesday, hit the asphalt when he and Briton Adam Yates were caught in a pile-up.

Geraint Thomas is braced for attacks from his rivals as he faces the final mountain stage of the Tour de France on Friday. 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.

"Froomey said on the radio at maybe 5k or 4k to go, that he wasn't feeling super", Welshman Thomas said.

"But hopefully, he won't have to do much anyway".

Despite being cleared of anti-doping violations after he was found to have more than the permissible level of asthma drug salbutamol in his urine at last September's Vuelta a España, tensions remained high in the build-up to the three-week race.

"It will be a tough day, a good two hours of climbing", said Thomas.

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