Third tour title looms for Froome

Briton will claim race victory with a lead of more than four minutes, as Izaguirre wins the 20th stage

SAINT-GERVAIS LES BAINS, (France) • Chris Froome held on to his overall lead in the last competitive stage of the Tour de France yesterday - which all but crowned him champion of the prestigious cycling race.

The formality of today's final procession to Paris remains, but the Briton has made it three wins in four years, and for that he has to largely thank the "Sky Armada", his multi-national support team.

Spaniards Mikel Nieve and Mikel Landa and Dutchman Wouter Poels, not to mention Sergio Henao of Colombia, were dubbed the "Sky Armada" during this Tour by Frenchman Romain Bardet, one of the overall contenders.

Their role during the Grand Boucle has been to protect, support and propel Froome to victory.

While British pair Ian Stannard and Luke Rowe marshalled Froome to safety on the flat stages, in the mountains it was the Spanish-Dutch connection that proved so effective.

For many, Sky's powerful team, with Froome's lieutenants setting a punishing pace on the climbs, killed the race, turning it into a Froome-Sky procession.

Fans have marvelled at the strength of the Sky team, able to surround Froome with up to five team-mates until late on the mountain stages.

According to Sky's sports director Nicolas Portal, it has all been thanks to a relay tactic to try to keep the riders as fresh as possible.

Asked why Poels has been so strong in the Alps, Portal said: "If he's in form in the third week it's also because during the first 10 days, along with Mikel Nieve, we asked them to sit up. They did their work earlier on, at the start of the stage."

This rotational policy, where some riders supported Froome while the others relaxed at the back of the peloton, was possible because of the single-mindedness of the team.

"We put egos to one side, we relax, we avoid crashes at the end and like that we're sure to have two good climbers in top form in the final week," said Portal.

That belligerent tunnel-vision in chasing only the biggest prize of all is what Froome believes gave him a significant edge over his rivals.

"I think one of the big differences with our team is that all eight team-mates of mine are focused on one goal," said the 31-year-old.

Yesterday, Spaniard Ion Izaguirre won the 20th and penultimate stage. But, despite crashing on Friday, Froome comfortably held onto his lead of more than four minutes over Frenchman Romain Bardet on the rainy 146.5km stage from Megeve to Morzine in the Alps.

Today, Froome will become the first Briton to successfully defend the Tour championship and the first (recognised) back-to-back winner since Miguel Indurain in 1995.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 24, 2016, with the headline 'Third tour title looms for Froome'. Print Edition | Subscribe