PRA LOUP, France (REUTERS) - With only three competitive stages left in the Tour de France, Chris Froome believes his rivals are going to take an all-or-nothing approach to the race.
The Briton retained the overall leader's yellow jersey after holding off his main rival, Colombian Nairo Quintana, on Wednesday's 17th stage, while Alberto Contador lost a big chunk of time and Tejay van Garderen abandoned the race.
Team Sky's Froome leads Quintana by a massive 3:10 and Alejandro Valverde in third by 4:09 with three gruelling stages in the Alps remaining.
Making up that much time by attacking in the final climbs is highly unlikely to unsettle Froome, who might be thrown off balance if his rivals take their chance earlier in the stage.
Said the 2013 winner: "I think we can see my rivals are definitely going to take bigger risks.
"I definitely feel as if attacking towards the beginning of the stage, that's a pretty big risk - if you do get away you're potentially going to spend 100 kilometres up the road, spending a lot of energy which could lead you to quite a deficit for the next few stages."
On Wednesday, Quintana attacked early into the 161-km stage but never managed to drop Froome while Contador also tried his luck 75km from the finish in the ascent to the col de la Colle St Michel.
The Spaniard, however, was quickly reined in before crashing in the descent from the col d'Allos, losing over two minutes.
"I think we're definitely seeing an all-or-nothing approach from the GC (general classification) contenders," said Froome, who never lost his cool in the treacherous descent from the col d'Allos, where Frenchman Thibaut Pinot also crashed.
Defending champion Vincenzo Nibali, seventh overall, also went to the front at the top of the col d'Allos but the Italian was also caught by Froome, who made a huge impression on the Astana rider.
"He was really very good," said Nibali. "We attacked him several times, me, Quintana, Valverde. He made it back on his own or with the help of team mates.
"It was really difficult to beat him. It's difficult to do better. There are other hard stages. Let's take it day by day."
Thursday's 18th stage could give Froome's rivals other opportunities as it features the out-of-category climb to the col du Glandon followed by a tricky descent.