ANNECY-SEMNOZ, France – Chris Froome has two hands firmly on the Tour de France trophy. All that remains is for the British rider to raise it above his head before cheering crowds in Paris today.
The Team Sky rider retained his big race lead Saturday in the penultimate stage to ensure he will become Britain’s second successive champion after Bradley Wiggins.
Only an accident or other freak mishap today on the largely ceremonial final ride to the Champs-Elysees could stop Froome from winning the 100th Tour.
“It’s been an amazing journey for me; the race has been a fight every single day,” Froome said at the winner’s news conference that the Tour holds the evening before the final stage.
“This Tour really has had everything. It really has been a special edition this year.”
Froome, who was clearly superior and never looked really troubled in the three-week race, finished third Saturday in a dramatic Stage 20 to the ski station of Annecy-Semnoz in the Alps that decided the other podium placings.
Nairo Quintana from Colombia won the stage and moved up to second overall.
Joaquim Rodriguez from Spain rode in 18 seconds behind Quintana and moved up to third overall.
Froome’s lead is more than five minutes over both of them.
Froome said only when he passed the sign showing two kilometers (about a mile) to go on the final steep uphill did he allow himself to believe he’d won the Tour.
“It actually became quite hard to concentrate,” he said. “A very emotional feeling.”
Alberto Contador, who was second overall at the start of the day, struggled on that climb and dropped off the podium.
Saturday’s 78-mile trek was the last of four successive stages in the Alps and the final significant obstacle Froome needed to overcome before today’s usually relaxed ride to the finish in Paris. That 82-mile jaunt starts in Versailles, at the gates of its palace.
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 he raced clean.
Froome first took the race lead and the yellow jersey that goes with it on Stage 8, when he won the climb to the Ax-3 Domaines ski station in the Pyrenees. On today’s Stage 21, he will wear the yellow jersey for the 13th straight day.
Uniquely for the 100th Tour, Stage 21 will set off in the late afternoon, so the race finishes more or less as the sun is setting behind the Arc de Triomphe.
“The arrival on the Champs-Elysees will be immense,” Froome said.