GAP (France) • Tour de France leader Chris Froome admitted on Wednesday that his rivals' tactical racing is pushing him to his "limits".
With three Alpine stages left in the race before Sunday's procession to Paris, he knows he will not be given a moment's rest by fellow overall contenders. They are desperate to turn the tide in a Tour that so far has been tightly locked away in the Briton's pocket.
Some of the remaining stages may not look on paper like courses where time differences can be gained. But last week's racing has proved to Froome that the likes of Movistar pair Nairo Quintana (second overall at 3min 10sec back) 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 in 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 (on Wednesday) with all those attacks and we can definitely expect more of that over the next three days," said Froome, the 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, 30.
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.
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."
Hence, Froome expects his Spanish rival to go all out. "Contador lost more time in that final descent with his crash and you can only expect him to attack in the next few stages," he said.