Chris Froome will be crowned winner of the 2016 Tour de France in Paris tomorrow after defending his overall lead on a rain-soaked 20th stage in the Alps.
The 31-year-old Briton finished just a handful of seconds behind his closest challengers in Morzine after torrential downpours and strong pace-setting by his Team Sky team-mates made it virtually impossible for his rivals to attack him.
Froome now leads second-placed Romain Bardet of Ag2r-La Mondiale by 4min 5sec at the top of the general classification and will seal the third Tour victory of his career as long as he avoids crashing on a largely processional final stage into Paris.
Movistar’s Nairo Quintana will end the race 4min 21sec down in third place, while 23-year-old Briton Adam Yates of Orica-BikeExchange will finish 4min 42sec adrift in fourth after an outstanding three weeks of racing that has seen him grab the attention of many.
Froome will join Greg LeMond, Louison Bobet and Philippe Thys as one of only four three-time winners of the Tour and will become just the eighth rider in history to have won cycling’s most prestigious race more than twice.
He also extends Team Sky’s domination of the Tour by handing them their fourth victory in five years, while Yates will finish top of the youth classification to ensure British riders take home two of the four jerseys on offer.
Stage 20 was won by breakaway rider Ion Izagirre of Movistar after a daring descent to the finish line from the last of the 146.5km day’s four climbs, the super-category Col de Joux Plane.
The Spaniard crested the summit alongside Astana’s Vincenzo Nibali and Jarlinson Pantano of IAM Cycling and looked the least likely of three to win, but despite pouring rain and the road being drenched, he tore into one of the fastest and most feared descents in cycling to win by 19 seconds.
Back in the peloton, Froome went into the day with a 4min 11sec lead over Bardet and consequently focused solely on defending the yellow jersey in the treacherous conditions. His Team Sky team-mates set a fierce pace up the Joux Plane in a bid to deter attacks from rivals, who were further put off by the lethal road surfaces and seemed content instead to consolidate their general classification positions.
Bardet, Quintana, Yates and Dan Martin who rides for Etixx – Quick-Step did eventually accelerate in the final 300m, but Froome’s triumph was already all but secured and he was happy to finish six seconds behind them beside all of his team-mates.
There was movement in the top 10, however. Fabio Aru of Astana lost 13 minutes and dropped from sixth to 13th overall after major collapse at the bottom of the Joux Plane, while Joaquim Rodriguez of Katusha climbed from 11th to seventh overall after being the only rider bold enough to attack on the final climb.
The Tour concludes tomorrow with a 113km 21st stage from Chantilly to Paris.
Stage 20 result
1 Ion Izagirre (Esp) Movistar, 4:06:45
2 Jarlinson Pantano (Col) IAM Cycling, +19sec
3 Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana, +42
4 Julian Alaphilippe (Fra) Etixx – Quick-Step, +49
5 Rui Costa (Por) Lampre-Merida, +1:43
6 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Tinkoff, +1:44
7 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo, +1:49
8 Joaquim Rodriguez (Esp) Katusha, +3:24
9 Dan Martin (Irl) Etixx – Quick-Step, +4:12
10 Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale, same time
11 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, st
13 Adam Yates (GB) Orica-BikeExchange, st
20 Chris Froome (GB) Team Sky, +4:18
1 Chris Froome (GB) Team Sky, 86:21:40
2 Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r-La Mondiale, +4:05
3 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, +4:21
4 Adam Yates (GB) Orica-BikeExchange, +4:42
5 Richie Porte (Aus) BMC Racing, +5:17
6 Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar, +6:16
7 Joaquim Rodriguez (Esp) Katusha, +6:58
8 Louis Meintjes (RSA) Lampre-Merida, +6:58
9 Dan Martin (Irl) Etixx – Quick-Step, +7:04
10 Roman Kreuziger (Cze) Tinkoff, +7:11