Spending 11 days in the yellow jersey is taking its toll on Chris Froome, but the Kenyan-born Briton is beginning to finally accept he will be crowned the Tour de France champion today.
On the penultimate stage in the high mountains on Friday, Froome finished the 204.5km 19th stage from Le Bourg d’Oisans to Le Grand Bornand with his 5 minutes 11 seconds 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 categorized climbs on the way to a downhill finish.
However, 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 had little left to offer.
Yesterday’s 20th and penultimate stage was due to finish on the summit of Annecy-Semnoz, but asked if he had anything left to aim for today, Contador was evasive.
“It all depends on the legs I have tomorrow, and how the race develops and what tactics we can employ,” he said.
Looking dejected, Contador will now likely return to the drawing board to see how and if he will ever challenge for the sport’s top prize again.
That is a prospect that Froome allowed himself to dream of as he took another step toward Paris.
“To be over five minutes ahead of the second place wearing the yellow jersey is just amazing,” Froome said. “I am excited, but quietly excited. I know 125km tomorrow, it’s going to be very hard for someone to make up five minutes in the general classification.”
“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,” he said.
On the penultimate day in the mountains there was ample opportunity for Contador’s Saxo team to try and claw back their deficit.
However, as an early breakaway forged ahead of the main bunch, the Spaniard’s challenge failed to materialize.
Saxo’s accelerations helped drop several of Froome’s teammates on the penultimate climb, but he ultimately crossed the finish safely on the wheel of Australian teammate Richie Porte.
Despite his seemingly imminent triumph, Froome admitted that shouldering the burden of the yellow jersey was 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.”