Riblon wins 18th stage of Tour

Christophe Riblon
Christophe Riblon is the first Frenchman to win a stage in this year's Tour de France.
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L'ALPE D'HUEZ, France (AP)

Christophe Riblon became the first Frenchman to win a stage on this year's Tour de France, and Chris Froome boosted his overall lead despite a late struggle on Thursday's 18th stage that cost him a 20-second time penalty.

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Riblon caught American Tejay van Garderen with about two kilometers remaining on the day's second ride up L'Alpe d'Huez, one of the Tour's most famous climbs.

Riblon threw his hands up and pumped his fists after clinching the second Tour stage win of his career, three years after winning another mountain trek. Van Garderen finished 59 seconds behind in second, and Italian Moreno Moser was 1:27 behind in third.

"To raise my arms aloft at L'Alpe d'Huez is incredible," Riblon said. "With five kilometers to go I thought I had lost it."

He dedicated the win to his AG2R La Mondiale teammate Jean-Christophe Peraud, who fractured his shoulder in Wednesday's time trial and had to pull out.

Froome, 3:18 back in seventh, is now more than five minutes ahead of his main rival Alberto Contador with just three stages remaining. He is edging closer to becoming the second British rider to win the Tour, following Sky teammate Bradley Wiggins' success last year.

Froome would have been further ahead had he not been hit with a 20-second time penalty. With about four kilometers to go, he grabbed an energy bar from teammate Richie Porte -- forbidden under race rules as riders are not allowed to take food within six kilometers from the stage end. Porte also got a 20-second penalty.

"That's one of those things that come with the race," Froome said. "I was really going into a little bit of a sugar low then. I don't know if it helped me ... I asked my teammate Richie Porte to get some sugar from the car."

The 172.5-kilometer (107-mile) route from Gap to L'Alpe d'Huez featured two HC ascents of L'Alpe d'Huez -- meaning they were so tough they were beyond classification, known as Hors Categorie.

"It wasn't easy," Froome said. "The whole team worked very hard to keep the yellow jersey."

Contador was dropped by Froome on the second ascent of L'Alpe d'Huez and finished 11th. The two-time former champion just held on to second place overall, but is 5:11 behind Froome.

Colombian climber Nairo Quintana moved up to third overall and 21 seconds behind Contador.

With about 12 kilometers to go on the last climb, Froome launched one of his trademark attacks. About a kilometer later, he attacked again and only Quintana could keep up with him as Contador dropped away.

Then, suddenly Froome slowed down, calling for assistance. But no team car could get up to help him due to the thousands of fans around. So, instead Porte went and brought him back the energy bar.

"He's just a super person, to have ridden the way he did today," Froome said. "He's put aside all his ambitions today. He paced with through that whole climb."

Van Garderen and Riblon were part of a nine-man breakaway.

They were chased by two riders from Contador's Saxo-Tinkoff team, Nicolas Roche and Sergio Paulinho, as they tried to increase the pressure on Froome's Sky teammates. Roche dropped off as they approached the first big ascent of the day.

Like players in a card game, Froome and Contador waited for the other one to show his hand. But neither did at first.

Van Garderen and Riblon reached the top of the next climb together, the Col de Sarenne, and braced themselves for a long and razor-thin descent.

In recent days, Froome had expressed concerns that the Sarenne descent, with its bumpy, pockmarked surface, was too dangerous. Riblon went off the road, and luckily for him he rolled onto a grass bank.

"I have a lucky star over me," Riblon said.

Two days ago, Froome also criticized Contador for riding too aggressively on a sharp descent to Gap, almost causing the Briton to crash.

But Contador attacked Froome almost immediately down Sarenne, passing him on the outside like a Formula One driver.

Contador, joined by his teammate Roman Kreuziger, opened up a gap of about 20 seconds but lost that advantage after a few minutes. Contador's bad day was compounded when he had to change bikes.

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Fans jammed the 21 hairpin bends on L'Alpe d'Huez in a chaotic atmosphere. Many were in fancy dress: Vicars, super heroes, and other outfits of more dubious taste.

But there was still a degree of organization within the mayhem, with certain corners reserved for fans from certain countries.

One of those is known as "Dutch Corner" and several hundred screaming, shouting Dutch men and women formed a vortex that sucked the riders in amid a surreal cacophony of indecipherable shrieks, howls and wails.

Barricades were erected on the last part of the climb to give the riders some respite.

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