SAINT-LARY-SOULAN (France) • Team Sky rider Chris Froome has pledged to do everything he can to help his team-mate Geraint Thomas secure a first yellow jersey after conceding that his hopes of winning a record-equalling fifth Tour de France are now over.
While Froome floundered during the 17th stage from Bagneres-de-Luchon to Saint-Lary-Soulan on Wednesday, Thomas gained time on his rivals and led his nearest challenger Tom Dumoulin by 1min 59sec, with Froome a further 32sec back in third.
Froome finished the stage in eighth place, 1min 35sec behind Colombian winner Nairo Quintana and 48sec behind Thomas.
"'G' has ridden such an amazing race, he deserves to be in yellow and, fingers crossed, he holds it until Paris," said Froome of Thomas.
"He looks pretty strong and I imagine he'll be able to finish it off. He's got an almost two-minute lead on Dumoulin which is a pretty comfortable buffer. We just need to look after him for these next few days."
The final mountain stage, which finishes downhill, will take place today and the penultimate stage time trial tomorrow.
The Kenyan-born Briton, who holds all three grand tour titles, also confirmed he would ride in service of his team-mate.
"That's professional cycling, that's what a team is all about. I'm happy just to be in the position I'm in. I'll still fight for the podium and obviously we want to see 'G' up there in yellow," Froome added.
The 32-year-old had been hoping to join an elite club of five-time winners and become the first cyclist since Marco Pantani, in 1998, to win the Giro d'Italia and Tour de France in the same calendar year.
But his bid to join Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain on the five-time winners' list may have to wait another year.
He was also fortunate to complete the stage unscathed.
Froome, who had put on his rain-jacket, almost crashed out of the Tour after being knocked off his bike when a policeman mistook him for one of the thousands of cycling fans who traditionally ride up the mountain stages to catch a glimpse of their idols.
In the confusion, the six-time Grand Tour champion crashed, but avoided injury.
Thomas, 32, had a smoother ride, finishing the stage in third place behind Quintana, but the Welshman refused to get carried away.
"I am feeling good, but I can't let any complacency creep in," he said.
However, he did admit to feeling upbeat at the end of the stage.
"It was a tough start to the final climb, and everyone was on the limit," he said. "But, as it went on, I was feeling better and better.
"And then Froomey said on the radio with five kilometres to go that he wasn't feeling super and that gave me confidence - because if Froomey was suffering, everyone was suffering.
"But I was feeling good. This is definitely the strongest I have ever felt in the third week of a grand tour."
Team Sky chief Dave Brailsford has said that it is wise to pin their hopes on Thomas.
"We've got a lead of two minutes," he said. "The probability of us winning this race lies more with Geraint.
"We'll look towards the next mountain stage, try and retain the jersey, then it will all come down to the time trial."
THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE