ANNECY-SEMNOZ, France — 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 on Sunday.
The Team Sky rider retained his big race lead Saturday in the penultimate stage to ensure he will become Britain’s second successive champion after Bradley Wiggins.
Only an accident or other freak mishap on the 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,” he said.
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Froome finished third in Saturday’s Stage 20 to the ski station of Annecy-Semnoz in the Alps. Colombian rider Nairo Quintana of the Movistar team won the stage and moved up to second overall. Spain’s Joaquim Rodriguez of Team Katusha rode in 18 seconds behind Quintana to virtually clinch third place and a spot on the podium. Froome’s lead is more than five minutes over both.
Spain’s Alberto Contador, who was second overall at the start of the day, struggled on the final climb and fell to fourth place.
Froome said only when he passed the sign showing two kilometers (1.2 miles) to go did he allow himself to believe he’d won the Tour.
“It actually became quite hard to concentrate,” he said. “A very emotional feeling.”
Saturday’s 78-mile trek was the last of four successive stages in the Alps and the final significant obstacle Froome needed to overcome before Sunday’s usually relaxed ride to the finish in Paris. That 82-mile jaunt starts in Versailles, at the gates of its palace.
Uniquely for the 100th Tour, Stage 21 will set off in the late afternoon, so the race finishes more or less as the sun sets behind the Arc de Triomphe.
“The arrival on the Champs-Elysees will be immense,” Froome said.
Froome’s dominance at this Tour suggests that his victory could be the first of several. At 28, he is entering his peak years. The 6-foot-1, 152-pound rider excels both in climbs and time trials.
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 Tour was the first since Lance Armstrong was stripped last year of his seven wins for serial doping. Froome said the scrutiny he faced 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, who was born in Kenya and educated in South Africa, said he hopes his victory will inspire African cyclists to believe that they, too, can turn professional.
Of 198 riders who started on the French island of Corsica on June 29, 170 have survived this far — meaning they could equal the Tour’s record for finishers, also 170, achieved in 2010.