21 Jul 2017

Froome relieved to pass final Alpine test as victory looms

6:40 am on 21 July 2017

Chris Froome said he was relieved the Alps are out of the way after keeping what should be a Tour de France-winning lead intact on the mighty Col d'Izoard climb on Thursday.

Romain Bardet, Fabio Aru and Chris Froome.

Romain Bardet, Fabio Aru and Chris Froome. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

With a relatively straightforward ride towards the Mediterranean on Friday and a time-trial in Marseille on Saturday, only something quite extraordinary can now prevent another celebratory ride into Paris for Froome on Sunday.

The 32-year-old heads south with a 23-second lead over Frenchman Romain Bardet and 29 ahead of Colombian Rigoberto Uran after neither managed to dent his armour on an iconic 18th stage won in stunning fashion by home favourite Warren Barguil.

"It's a big relief, Ideally I wanted to take a bit more time today but Bardet and Uran were quick to react, It's not quite done yet but the toughest part of the Tour is behind us.

"Definitely it's nice to get through the Alps feeling good and looking forward to the time trial now in Marseille," Froome said.

There was a sense of now-or-never as Froome's main rivals for the yellow jersey, Bardet and Uran, sized up the Briton at the start of a 14km slog to the 2,360m Izoard summit finish -- their last chance to find a chink in Froome's armour.

But neither could make any impression and it was Froome, with the help of Spanish team mate Mikel Landa, who was actually the aggressor.

At one point on the twisting ribbon of tarmac to the summit finish Froome accelerated away from his GC rivals and opened up a gap before they hauled him back in.

AG2R rider Bardet did finish third to Froome's fourth in an identical time -- reducing the gap to 23 seconds because of a time bonus -- while Cannondale-Drapac rider Uran lost a couple of seconds in fifth and is now is 29 in arrears.

Froome would become only the seventh man to claim the yellow jersey in Paris without winning a stage if he fails to cross the line first in any of the three that remain.

"I'll do my best to try to win the stage and ride for the jersey. I've already seen the time trial course. It's a very fast 22km course. I'll do my maximum for sure," he said.