By Gregor Brown
Chris Froome says his 2018 Giro d'Italia victory will mark the biggest fight of his career.
Froome defended the pink leader's jersey on the final mountain day at the Cervinia ski resort. All that is left is stage 21, a flat 115-kilometre stage in Rome that should see a sprint finish.
"It's incredible, absolutely incredible, this race has been such a roller coaster. It's been the biggest fight of my career for sure," Froome said.
"It was always my objective to get to this last block in the best condition possible, but the setbacks I've had along the way: time losses where I wouldn't expect to lose time, obviously the crashes that took a lot out of me at the beginning. It's been such a brutal race. I'm beginning to get quite emotional about it now."
Two early crashes affected Froome's bid to become the race's first British winner. He lost time in the mountain stages while Brit Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) dominated for 13 days in the pink jersey.
Froome overhauled Yates on the Jafferau stage with a massive solo 80-kilometre ride. He jumped from fourth to first overall and wrote his name in the history books.
Entering stage 20, Froome led by 40 seconds over Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb). The Dutchman and defending champion made him earn the pink jersey - launching attacks several times on the final climb to the Cervinia ski station.
"He did some pretty big attacks coming up the final climb there but thankfully for me my legs were all right and I was able to respond each time," Froome continued.
"I really had the feeling that everyone was on the limit after these 20 days of racing. For someone to pull away and make a difference, it didn't really feel as if anyone had anything to give at this point in the race."
"This race is brutal, it takes no hostages. If you have a bad day you can lose serious time," he added, referring to the struggles experienced by Yates on stage 19 and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) on stage 20.
Froome's salbutamol case is still ongoing, and Dumoulin commented before the race began "if I would be in same situation, I would not be here".
At the finish line, Froome passed Dumoulin to complement him on the fight, but Dumoulin refused to turn and face him.
The case drags on, but Froome meanwhile becomes only the third to win three consecutive grand tours – adding the 2018 Giro to the 2017 Tour de France and Vuelta a España. Only Bernard Hinault and Eddy Merckx did so beforehand.
"If I'm completely honest, I didn't think that yesterday I'd be in this position right now. When I attacked on the Finestre, I thought if I'm really lucky, I'll stay away and get the stage win. I didn't imagine that I'd do enough to take the maglia rosa. It's an incredible surprise," Froome said.
"There's no bigger objective for a cyclist who focuses on grand tours, to win three, all three grand tours consecutively like that. There's no bigger joy, no bigger target, it's just... It's really special. I'm going to soak up every moment."
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