GAP, France (AFP) - Tour de France leader Chris Froome admits his rivals' tactical racing is pushing him to his "limits".
With three Alpine stages left in this year's race before Sunday's procession to Paris, Froome knows he won't be given a moment's rest by fellow overall contenders desperate to turn the tide on a Tour that so far has been tightly locked away in the Briton's pocket.
Thursday's 186.5km 18th stage from Gap to Saint Jean de Maurienne may not look on paper like a course where time differences can be gained, but the last week's racing has proved to Froome that the likes of Movistar pair Nairo Quintana (second overall at 3min 10sec) and Alejandro Valverde (third at 4:09), Tinkoff-Saxo's Alberto Contador (fifth at 6:40) or even reigning champion Vincenzo Nibali (seventh at 8:04) will not let him relax.
Already on Wednesday's 17th stage from Digne-les-Bains to Pra Loup, Froome was left to soldier on alone as his team-mates were shed by the aggressive riding of Movistar, Tinkoff and Astana.
Quintana had even started the attacks within the first 50km.
"I was definitely pushed to my limits (Wednesday) with all those attacks and we can definitely expect more of that over the next three days," said Froome, the 30-year-old Sky leader.
Movistar had sent two riders up the road in a breakaway to be used later to help Quintana and Valverde on the final climb.
"It was a very impressive ride by them to have numbers in the finish there," admitted Froome.
Tinkoff had planned a similar tactic but it unravelled when Contador crashed on the tricky descent off the Col d'Allos.
Peter Sagan and Rafal Majka had gone up the road in a breakaway and Australian Michael Rodgers was also ahead of the peloton ready to act as a bridge.
"We made a move and sent two guys out in the break and then I made a move, a bit far out," explained Rodgers.
"The idea was to have a group of guys waiting for Alberto on the top of the penultimate climb. It worked out perfectly, we had Peter, Alberto and then myself in that select group with Rafal further ahead.
"Unfortunately, Alberto slipped in one of the corners. There were a lot of bumps and his front wheel slipped and before we knew it he was on the ground."
With Contador slipping out of the picture, the Briton says his Spanish rival will be doing nothing but attacking from now on in.
"Alberto Contador lost more time in that final descent with his crash and you can only expect him to attack in the next few stages," said Froome.
Thursday's stage has seven categorised climbs, making it ideal for a breakaway and both Movistar and Tinkoff are sure to have men in that.
But the main danger may come from the 21km long hors category Col du Glandon.
Even though it peaks just under 40km from the finish, Froome can expect the fireworks to ignite on the ascent.