By Julien Pretot
Chris Froome virtually sealed his maiden Tour de France title with yet another strong climbing performance in Saturday’s penultimate stage won by Colombia’s Nairo Quintana.
Britain’s Froome leads Quintana by 5:03 overall, with Spain’s Joaquim Rodriguez jumping into third 5:47 off the pace after Alberto Contador, the 2007 and 2009 champion, slipped out of the top three when he cracked in the final ascent of the 125-km 20th stage.
Contador, who was dripping with sweat on the slopes of Semnoz, is fourth 7:10 behind Froome going into Sunday’s final stage, a festive parade from Versailles to Paris with only the final sprint being contested.
Barring a crash, Team Sky’s Froome will succeed compatriot and team mate Bradley Wiggins, who missed this year’s race because of a knee injury.
“I think for the GC (general classification), this time it’s done,” said Froome.
“Tomorrow will be for the sprinters. We, are done.”
Slovakian Peter Sagan is set to retain the green jersey after opening an unassailable lead in the points classification over Mark Cavendish, who will look to claim his fifth straight win on the Champs-Elysées on Sunday.
On his Tour debut, Quintana is also about to secure the white jersey for the best Under-25 rider as well as the polka-dot jersey for the best climber.
“I can’t ask for more. I almost have everything, it’s fantastic. Thank you to my team mates and my sports directors, who have helped me achieve this,” the 23-year-old, Colombia’s first stage winner since Mauricio Soler in 2007, told reporters.
Quintana of the Movistar team sped away with one kilometre left in the final climb, dropping Froome who had earlier shaken up a group of favourites with a trademark attack – rooted to his saddle, jutting elbows and nodding head.
Froome was then overtaken by Rodriguez, who had worked hard in front of Quintana and the Briton in the final kilometres to distance Contador and become the second rider to feature on all grand Tours podiums without winning any of them.