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 won last year.
Only an accident or other freak mishap Sunday on the largely ceremonial final ride to the Champs-Elysees could stop Froome, who placed second in last year’s race, 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 news 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 Saturday in a dramatic Stage 20 to the ski station of Annecy-Semnoz in the Alps that decided the other podium placings.
Nairo Quintana from Colombia won the stage and moved up to second overall.
Joaquim Rodriguez of Spain finished 17 seconds behind Quintana and moved up to third overall.
Froome’s lead is more than five minutes over both.
Froome said only when he passed the sign showing two kilometers (about a mile) to go on the final steep uphill did he allow himself to believe he’d won the Tour.
“It actually became quite hard to concentrate,” he said. “A very emotional feeling.”
Alberto Contador, who was second at the start of the day, struggled on that climb and dropped off the podium.
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.
Froome’s dominance at this Tour was such that this victory could very well be the first of several. At 28, he is entering peak years for a bike racer. He handled, with poise and aplomb, questions about doping in cycling and suspicions about the strength of his own performances. He insisted he has 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 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 yellow jersey that goes with it on Stage 8. On Sunday’s Stage 21, he will wear the yellow jersey for the 13th straight day.