Annecy-Semnoz, France: Britain’s Chris Froome virtually secured overall victory in the 100th Tour de France Saturday after a 20th and penultimate stage won by Colombian climbing specialist Nairo Quintana.
Ahead of Sunday’s final stage from Versailles to Paris, which is usually only disputed by the spinters, Froome defended his significant overnight lead over his rivals on the final day in the mountains after finishing third.
Spain’s Alberto Contador, second overnight, fell off the pace on the final 10.3 km climb to Annecy-Semnoz and fell to fourth overall at 7min 10sec behind Froome.
Contador’s inability to follow the pace in the final five kilometres of the climb left Froome, Quintana and Joaquim Rodriguez to forge on ahead and dispute the stage victory.
Froome tested his rivals with a short burst of acceleration but the Team Sky leader could not respond when Quintana pulled ahead inside the last two kilometres.
Quintana went on to cross the finish line alone to claim his maiden stage win on his race debut, moving up to second overall at 5:03 behind Froome, a day before the final in Paris.
Rodriguez came over the line 17sec adrift, but the Katusha team leader’s efforts moved him up to third overall at 5:47 behind Froome.
The race ends with the 21st stage on Sunday when Froome is virually guaranteed to become the second Briton, after teammate Bradley Wiggins last year, to win the world’s biggest bike race.
Spending 11 days in the yellow jersey is taking its toll on Froome, but the Kenyan-born Briton is beginning to finally accept he will be crowned the Tour de France champion on Sunday.
On the penultimate stage in the high mountains Friday, Froome finished the 204.5 km 19th stage from Le Bourg d’Oisans to Le Grand Bornand with his 5min 11sec over Spanish rival Alberto Contador intact.
It was a day when Contador, the former two-time winner who lost his 2010 title after a positive test for doping, had hoped to launch an attack on one of the five categorised climbs on the way to a downhill finish.
But after nearly three weeks of toil, in which Froome’s Sky team has dealt with most of what the peloton and the elements have thrown at them, the Saxo team leader has little left to offer.
“To be over five minutes ahead of the second place wearing the yellow jersey is just amazing,” said Froome before Saturday’s stage.
“I am excited, but quietly excited. I know 125 kilometres tomorrow, it’s going to be very hard for someone to make up five minutes in the general classification.
“But having said that, it is a day where the whole team’s going to have to stay alert and control that last stage. One final big effort, then we can start relaxing on the ride into Paris.”
Despite his imminent triumph, Froome admitted that shouldering the burden of the yellow jersey is beginning to tell.
“It’s mentally quite hard to keep up with that and wake up every morning, still motivated, still hungry to go out there and look for more seconds,” he said.
“That’s probably the biggest challenge, to have a fresh mentality at the beginning of every day when you’ve still got so far to go in the Tour.”