Alpe-d'Huez, France (Sports Network) - Christophe Riblon of France surged past American Tejay Van Garderen about two kilometers from the finish line and thrilled the home country by capturing Stage 18 of the Tour de France.
Overall leader Chris Froome of Britain struggled on the final climb Thursday and managed to finish seventh, good enough to increase his lead with just three days remaining in cycling's most prestigious event.
Riblon completed the grueling 172.5-kilometer trek from Gap to Alpe-d'Huez, which included a pair of ascents up the highest category finishing climb, in a time of 4 hours, 51 minutes and 32 seconds. It was the second career stage win for Riblon and the first stage win for the host nation in the Tour's 100th edition.
Van Garderen, who had escaped from the pack with 12 kilometers remaining, managed to finish 59 seconds behind the stage winner for second place. Italy's Moreno Moser was next, another 28 seconds off the pace.
"At five kilometers to go, I no longer believed it was possible (to win the stage)," said Riblon. "I was riding for second place, so I was giving it my all on the climb. Then, when I saw him ahead of me, I realized he had the very distinctive position of a rider who is not coping. So I came back up to him, and I absolutely did not want to leave him any hope that he could accompany me. I had no hesitation and I immediately attacked. It's a huge thrill to see the race reversed."
Froome broke away from his nearest rivals inside the final 10 kilometers and appeared set to open a wide advantage. However, he also struggled over the final three kilometers, needing help from teammate Richie Porte, and finished 3:18 behind the stage winner.
"Richie Porte is a really great guy. I mean, he put aside all his ambitions in this race to help keep the jersey on my shoulders and he did such a good job today -- really fantastic," said Froome. "I mean he paced me through that whole climb basically."
Porte went back to the team car, to get an energy bar for Froome. It resulted in a time penalty of 20 seconds for both riders.
"It's understandable," Froome added. "I really felt that I needed those sugars in the final, so if it comes with a 20-second penalty, then I have to accept that."
Thursday's effort was still good enough to increase Froome's cushion over Spain's Alberto Contador. The two-time Tour champ had no answer to Froome's late attack and is still second overall, but now trails by 5 minutes and 11 seconds.
Colombia's Nairo Alexander Quintana Rojas was fourth in Thursday's stage and moved into third place in the overall standings, 5:32 behind Froome. Czech Roman Kreuziger is fourth overall, another 12 seconds off the yellow jersey's pace.
Another tough day in the Alps is set for Stage 19 on Friday. A pair of highest category climbs are early in the 204.5-kilometer trek from Bourg d'Oisans to Le Grand Bornand. Two other Category 1 ascents are nearer the finish line.
Saturday's 20th stage is another mountain journey before the traditional Sunday finish along the Champs Elysees in Paris.