x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Tour de France leader Chris Froome is ready to master in Paris

Briton is a ride into capital away from giving Great Britain a win in the Tour for a second consecutive year.

Yellow jersey holder Chris Froome pushes a spectator out of the way as he cycles behind Nairo Quintana, who won the 20th stage. Froome is now a simple ride into Paris away from winning the Tour de France.
Yellow jersey holder Chris Froome pushes a spectator out of the way as he cycles behind Nairo Quintana, who won the 20th stage. Froome is now a simple ride into Paris away from winning the Tour de France.

ANNECY-SEMNOZ, France // Chris Froome retained his big lead on Saturday to all but ensure he will become Britain's second consecutive Tour de France champion.

Only an accident or freak mishap on Sunday's largely ceremonial final ride to Paris could stop Froome from winning the 100th Tour, a year after Sir Bradley Wiggins won the 99th.

Froome finished third in a dramatic Stage 20 to the ski station of Annecy-Semnoz in the Alps that decided the other podium placings.

Nairo Quintana of Colombia won the stage and moved up to second overall.

Spain's Joaquim Rodriguez rode in 17 seconds behind Quintana, moving to third overall.

Froome's lead is more than five minutes on both.

Alberto Contador, second at the start of Saturday, struggled on the final climb and dropped off the podium.

Froome told French television that when he passed the sign showing two kilometres to go on Saturday's final climb, "for the first time I realised that it was almost won".

The 125km trek was the last of four successive stages in the Alps and the final significant obstacle Froome needed to overcome before Sunday's usually relaxed ride to the finish on the Champs-Elysees in Paris.

Froome's dominance at this Tour was such that this victory could very well be the first of several.

At 28, he is entering peak years for a bike racer. He proved at this Tour that he excels both in climbs and time trials – skills essential for those who want to win cycling's premier race.

He also handled with poise and aplomb questions about doping in cycling and suspicions about the strength of his own performances.

He insisted that he races clean.

"It was hard today," Froome said. "Rodriguez and Quintana raced very strongly.

"Tomorrow will be a day for sprinters on the Champs-Elysees. For us, it is done."

Quintana's win also secured him the spotted jersey awarded to riders who pick up the most points on mountain climbs.

He also retained the white jersey as the tour's best young rider. He wiped away tears in his news conference as stage winner.

"I couldn't ask for more," he said. "I got nearly everything. It was fabulous. It's a very special day in Colombia. A big party and the whole of Colombia is celebrating."

Unlike on Friday, when storms drenched the pack, the sun shone and the skies were blue. When a motorbike-borne television camera focused on Spanish rider Alejandro Valverde, he motioned that riding in such conditions was hot, tiring work.

The ride took the racers up six climbs. The last two of those were particularly tough.

The last steep climb to Annecy-Semnoz was the last really tough climb. The riders have just two small humps to climb on their leisurely ride from the Versailles Palace to the Champs-Elysees' cobbles, where sprinters will battle for the stage win.

A chunk of the stage was led by its oldest rider, Jens Voigt. The German, 41, was part of a group of 10 riders that broke away from the pack early in the stage.

"Since I'm almost sure that this was my last tour, I wanted to say a proper goodbye," said Voigt. "I gave everything. I'm happy and now it is over for me."

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