Michal Kwiatkowski won stage 18 of the Tour de France and Richard Carapaz moved into the polka dot jersey as the Ineos Grenadiers set about salvaging their race following the withdrawal of Egan Bernal.
Primoz Roglic retained the yellow jersey and his 57-second advantage over fellow Slovenian Tadej Pogacar at the top of the general classification but the day belonged to Ineos, with Kwiatkowski and Carapaz the final two survivors of what had been a 32-man breakaway on the 175km stage from Meribel to La Roche-sur-Foron.
The pair made the approach to La Roche-sur-Foron deep in conversation, patting each on the back under the flamme rouge, before Kwiatkowski crossed the line first to give the former world champion his first Grand Tour stage win.
— Michał Kwiatkowski (@kwiato) September 17, 2020
Ineos have been active in breaks since Bernal shipped time in Sunday’s stage on Le Grand Colombier before withdrawing from the race with a back injury on Wednesday morning following further losses on Tuesday.
The win was an emotional one for the popular Kwiatkowski, who has sacrificed his considerable talents in the service of others for several years but got his reward here.
“That was some day,” the 2014 world champion said. “I can’t describe how grateful I am to the whole team and to Richard. It was an incredible day for us and I will never forget that.
“I’ve had some nice moments in cycling but that was a new experience. I’ve got goosebumps for the last I don’t know how many kilometres because I knew the gap is so big that we’re going to make it and we both really enjoyed the last kilometres.
“I think we’re going to celebrate big time tonight.”
Carapaz will need to wait for another shot at his own first Tour stage win, but the reigning Giro d’Italia champion got the reward of polka dots instead.
The Ecuadorian had been battling Team Sunweb’s Marc Hirschi for mountain points as both riders looked to overhaul Pogacar in the category, but a crash for Hirschi on a descent midway through the stage put Carapaz in the driving seat and he now leads the category by two points.
The main group of contenders crossed the line a little under two minutes later, with no change at the top.
Miguel Angel Lopez remains third and Richie Porte recovered from a puncture at the summit of the last hors categorie climb of the Tour – the Montee du Plateau des Glieres – to cling on to his fourth place, on course for a best career Tour finish in what stands to be his last entry as a team leader.
However, Adam Yates lost touch with the yellow jersey group on the final climb and lost two places, dropping back to seventh overall as Spanish duo Mikel Landa and Enric Mas moved up to fifth and sixth respectively.
Earlier in the day, Irishman Sam Bennett used the intermediate sprint to stretch his advantage over Peter Sagan to 52 points in the battle for the green jersey.