Geraint Thomas edged closer to the Tour de France title on an uneventful day in the general classification battle as Arnaud Demare won stage 18.
Team Sky's Thomas had pulled further clear of Tom Dumoulin and defending champion Chris Froome 24 hours earlier, but there was little drama among the leading lights on Thursday.
Froome had all but conceded his challenge was over after fading on Wednesday's difficult ride, promising that he would "look after" team-mate Thomas in a bid to hold off second-placed Dumoulin of Team Sunweb.
And he did exactly that as the trio of Thomas, Dumoulin and Froome spent much of the day tucked safely within the pack, the Sky riders content to let the race play out ahead of them.
With Dumoulin subdued, the sprinters instead jostled for position in the closing stages, with Demare nudging clear of Christophe Laporte for his first stage win of the race.
Laporte bemoaned an apparent deviation across his path from Demare, but Groupama-FDJ were belatedly able to celebrate a win.
FELLED SAGAN COMPETITIVE
His efforts were in vain as Demare stole victory, but Peter Sagan - already assured of a sixth green jersey - performed admirably to be in contention.
The Bora–Hansgrohe rider crashed 38km into stage 17 and there were some doubts over whether he would be able to continue the race.
Not only did Sagan do that on Thursday but he finished eighth after positioning himself well prior to Demare's burst.
With the other standings unchanged, Demare climbed to third in the points race, closing on Alexander Kristoff behind Sagan's unassailable lead.
STAGE 18 RESULT
1. Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) 03:46.50
2. Christophe Laporte (Team Cofidis)
3. Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates)
4. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Dimension Data)
5. Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida)
1. Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) 74:21.01
2. Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) +1.59
3. Chris Froome (Team Sky) +2.31
1. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) 467
2. Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) 196
3. Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) 183
King of the Mountains
1. Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors) 140
2. Warren Barguil (Team Fortuneo-Samsic) 73
3. Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) 54
The mountainous 200.5km stage 19, from Lourdes to Laruns, presents a final opportunity for the star climbers among the riders to make an impact on the race.