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Romain Bardet takes the stage 18 at #TDF2015

Serge Pauwels from Team MTN-Qhubeka put on another powerful performance.

SA Fans cheer for MTN-Qhubeka at the Tour de France. Picture: Thomas Holder/EWN.

JOHANNESBURG - Romain Bardet flew the French flag high on Thursday as he captured the 18th Stage of the Tour de France, a 186.5km trek from Gap to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne in the Alps.

It was the AG2R La Mondiale rider's first ever stage win, and he finished 33 seconds clear of compatriot Pierre Rolland from Team Europcar.

Serge Pauwels from Team MTN-Qhubeka put on another powerful performance for the African outfit, crossing the line in sixth place, just over a minute adrift of Bardet.

2013 winner Chris Froome maintained his commanding advantage and moved a step closer to a second title by finishing the stage in 12th place, three minutes and two seconds off the pace. The Yellow Jersey holder from Team Sky leads Nairo Quintana from Team Movistar by three minutes and ten seconds in the overall standings.

Pauwels is the best placed rider from MTN-Qhubeka. The Belgian is 14th overall, while his team is 2nd overall in the team standings, 36 minutes and 23 seconds behind Movistar.

Friday's 19th Stage, regarded as the toughest of the Tour, sees the riders travel 138 km from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to La Toussuire where they will tackle four major Alpine climbs along the way.