LE GRAND-BORNAND, France – Chris Froome can already taste the champagne and has only 1 more day of climbing left before mounting the Champs-Elysees podium steps as Britain’s second consecutive Tour de France winner.
The race leader preserved his comfortable 5-minute-plus lead over two-time champion Alberto Contador on Friday’s rainy 19th stage featuring four big climbs and one hair-raisingly fast descent.
Rui Costa won it with a solo breakaway on the final ascent. Froome braced himself for a big Contador attack that never materialized on any of the climbs, nor in the long downhill to the finish line on increasingly wet roads.
“I certainly feel a big sigh of relief,” Froome said. “Today was a day I was nervous about. Happy to put it behind us.”
Contador is 5:11 behind and has only Saturday’s final mountain stage in which to do that, since Sunday’s 21st and last stage is largely processional.
“It’s going to be hard for someone to take more than 5 minutes in 125 kilometers,” Froome said. “But having said that, I don’t want to be complacent and want to stay switched on until at least tomorrow evening.”
Realistically, only an improbable slump will stop the 28-year old from matching countryman Bradley Wiggins’s success last year.
Costa secured his second stage win of the race, and third of his career, after catching Frenchman Pierre Roland about a quarter of the way up the final major ascent of Col de la Croix Fry.
The 127-mile trek featured two HC climbs and two Category 1 ascents between Bourg-d’Oisans and Le Grand-Bornand in the snow-capped peaks of the Alps.
Contador was tipped to attack Froome on the downhill stretch, but perhaps because of the rainy conditions, he held back. Contador will need a miracle to claw back his deficit and may not even go for it.
“It all depends on how my legs are tomorrow,” Contador said. “It depends how I feel.”