Chris Froome all but sewed up his second Tour de France victory after holding off a stirring fightback by Nairo Quintana on Alpe d’Huez on Saturday.
Frenchman Thibaut Pinot salvaged something from his disappointing Tour with victory on the 20th stage but it was the battle between Froome and Quintana that really mattered.
Quintana finished second, 18sec behind Pinot, but Froome, who started the day with a 2min 38sec buffer, dug in to finish the stage fifth, just 1min 20sec behind Quintana.
The Colombian took six bonus seconds on the line but that still left him 1min 12sec short of overhauling Froome.
That was less than the minute-and-a-half Quintana had given up to Froome almost three weeks ago on the second stage when he was caught behind a crash in crosswinds.
Just as in 2013, Froome, 30, has fought off an Alpine comeback from Quintana to beat the 25-year-old Movistar leader to Tour success.
The final battle took place on the 13.8km climb to the finish at Alpe d’Huez at the end of a 110.5km stage from Modane.
Sunday’s final stage to Paris is nothing more than a procession and barring an unlikely crash, Froome will be crowned Tour champion.
But Quintana, who was 3min 10sec behind following Thursday’s 18th stage, did not lie down lightly.
He had already attacked on the hors category Col de la Croix de Fer some 60km from the finish and briefly had Froome in trouble before a small lead peloton regrouped on the descent off that mountain.
But right from the foot of the climb to Alpe d’Huez Quintana launched the first of four attacks.
Froome’s Sky teammate Wouter Poels chased down the Colombian the first three times, but the fourth, Quintana got away.
From there it was a race against time as Quintana tried to hunt down Pinot for the stage win, while also aiming to claw back his deficit to Froome for overall success.
By the end, though, Quintana had come up short on both counts. – Agence France-Presse