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.
The Sky Pro Cycling rider retained his big race lead in Saturday’s penultimate stage to ensure he will become Britain’s second successive champion after Bradley Wiggins.
Only an accident or other freak mishap on yesterday’s 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 press conference, which 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 on Saturday 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. Joaquim Rodriguez from Spain rode in 18 seconds behind Quintana. He 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 2km to go on the final steep uphill did he allow himself to believe he had 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 125km trek was the last of four successive stages in the Alps and the final significant obstacle Froome needed to overcome before yesterday’s usually relaxed ride to the finish in Paris. That 133km jaunt starts in Versailles, at the gates of its palace.
Froome’s dominance at this year’s Tour was such that this victory could very well be the first of several. At 28, he is entering the peak years for a bike racer.
He proved at this year’s 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.
This year’s Tour was the first since Lance Armstrong was stripped last year of his seven wins for serial doping.
Froome said the scrutiny he faced has “definitely been a challenge,” but was “100 percent understandable.”
Whoever won this 100th Tour “was going to come under the same amount of scrutiny, the same amount of criticism,” he said. “I’m also one of those guys who have been let down by the sport.”
Froome first took the race lead and the maillot jaune that goes with it on Stage 8, when he won the climb to the Ax-3 Domaines ski station in the Pyrenees. On yesterday’s Stage 21, he will wear the jersey for the 13th straight day.
Froome said the low point of his Tour was when he ran short of energy on the second ascent of L’Alpe d’Huez this week.
“A horrible feeling,” he said.
The highlight, he said, was when he powered away from his rivals on Mont Ventoux in Provence and became the first wearer of the maillot jaune to win a stage on that mammoth climb since legendary five-time Tour winner Eddy Merckx in 1970.
“That was an incredible moment, incredible,” Froome said.