LA TOUSSUIRE (France) • Chris Froome is poised to win the Tour de France after surviving an attack by Nairo Quintana on the final climb, the Alpe d'Huez, that cut more than a minute from the 2013 champion's lead yesterday.
The Colombian was 2min 38sec behind Britain's Froome going into the 21 switchback turns of the 10km climb. While he pulled away from the British rider, he could not win the stage, finishing 18sec behind France's Thibaut Pinot. With a six-second bonus from finishing second in the 110.5km stage, Quintana is 1min 12sec behind Froome, who will keep the leader's jersey through the last ride on the streets of Paris today.
"It was a bit close in the end, but after what he's endured and put up with in the last weeks, I think Chris has shown his true metal," Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford.
Froome helped Bradley Wiggins become the first British champion in 2012, and then won the following year. Quintana, 25, took back more than 30 sec on Friday by breaking free on a ride that finished with a climb to La Toussuire ski station in the Alps.
On Friday, Froome erupted furiously at what he claimed was "unsportsmanlike" behaviour by rival Vincenzo Nibali.
The Briton swore at the Italian at the end of the 19th stage, accusing last year's Tour winner of taking advantage of a mechanical problem.
This was the second time in this year's Tour that the duo have been engaged in a vigorous argument and, this time, neither rider was backing down. The controversial moment happened high up on the Col de la Croix de Fer.
Froome felt a piece of asphalt jamming his wheel. "I had to stop and get it out before I could continue," he said. Television pictures appeared to show Nibali turning around to look at Froome's predicament, before launching himself up the mountain.
"It seemed to me that Nibali had the whole climb to attack but he chose the moment when I had a mechanical (problem) to make his move," Froome said.
"I've heard from other riders that he turned. In my opinion, it's very unsportsmanlike, it's not in the spirit of the Tour de France and it's definitely not what this race is about."
Of their post-race exchange, the 2013 champion confirmed: "I told him exactly what I thought of him."
Nibali, who won Friday's 138km stage in 4hr 22min 53sec, insisted that the timing of his attack was coincidental. "(Froome) was very upset but I don't understand his problem. Many times, this happened to me. That's cycling," he said.
Froome had said shortly before the Tour that he felt strongly about "not turning someone else's bad luck into an opportunity".
It was pointed out to Froome that he had been in the leading group that had made time on key rivals Quintana and Nibali when that pair had been caught behind a crash in stage two.
"I don't think either of them were in the leader's jersey at that point," Froome countered.
THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS
TOUR DE FRANCE
Stage 21: StarHub Ch212, 10.15pm