By Nigel Wynn
Chris Froome (Sky) limited his losses on the final mountain stage of the 2015 Tour de France to Alpe d'Huez on Saturday to keep hold of the yellow jersey. Barring a freak incident on the final stage to Paris on Sunday, Froome has won the 2015 Tour.
Colombian climber Nairo Quintana and his Movistar team put Froome and Sky under serious pressure on the day's two big climbs of Col del la Croix de Fer and Alpe d'Huez. Quintana went into the stage in second place overall, two minutes and 38 seconds behind Froome.
Attacking early on Alpe d'Huez, Quintana did all he could to try and close the gap on Froome. Sky rallied behind their leader to limit Froome's loss to Quintana to 1-20, virtually ensuring that the Briton secured his second Tour victory.
Ahead of the fight for the yellow jersey, Frenchman Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) took a solo stage win, keeping the rapidly accelerating Quintana at bay. Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin) placed third with Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) in fourth and Froome fifth.
Froome leads Quintana by 1-12 overall, with Valverde in third at 5-25. Last year's Tour champion Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) is fourth at 8-36.
Froome also takes the King of the Mountains classification, the first British rider to do so since Robert Millar in 1984. Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) cannot now be beaten in the points classification and Quintana is best young rider.
Final showdown on Alpe d'Huez
Alexandre Geniez (FDJ) and Ramunas Navardauskas (Cannondale-Garmin) were the first riders of the day to escape from the peloton, and were soon joined by Lars Bak (Lotto-Soudal) and Nicolas Edet (Cofidis) to make a quartet. The four opened up an eight-minute gap as they hit the bottom of the Col de la Croix de Fer.
Geniez struck out near the top of the climb, leaving his three companions behind as Ag2r led the peloton for Romain Bardet in a bid for mountains point. Valverde attacked from the peloton, with Nicolas Roche and Richie Porte then taking up the pace-making for Froome. Quintana then attacked and rode up to Valverde.
Porte took up the chase with Froome on his wheel, and with Nibali in attendance as Contador found the pace too hot. Nibali attacked over the top of the Croix de Fer, with Froome following him closely as they caught Quintana and Valverde on the descent.
With that attack under control, the pace of the contenders slowed up allowing many riders to catch back up, including four Sky team-mates for Froome: Thomas, Poels, Porte and Roche.
As the peloton tackled the section between the day's two climbs, Geniez forged ahead at the front of the stage rebuilding a lead of four minutes. Bak, Edet and Navardauskas were still chasing with a further group of six including Ryder Hesjedal (Cannondale-Garmin), Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Winner Anacona (Movistar) between them and the peloton.
Nibali suffered a puncture as the peloton hit the start of Alpe d'Huez and was forced to chase back on at an inopportune moment. Shortly after, Quintana launched several attacks, and was each time marked by Sky.
Quintana finally made an attack stick with 8km to go, forcing Poels and Porte to pace Froome - but they could not match the Colombian's speed. Further up the road, Hesjedal and Pinot caught and passed Geniez, and then Pinot dropped Hesjedal.
Quintana linked up with Anacona from the escape, and the two opened up a gap on Froome as they squeezed their way through the crowds spilling onto the road on Alpe d'Huez. A group with Contador, Nibali and Bauke Mollema (Trek Factory Racing) was just under a minute behind Froome.
Quintana passed Hesjedal but could not catch Pinot as the gradient eased in the final three kilometres, and the Frenchman took the victory. As Porte dropped away, Froome chased to the line to limit his losses, and with the 2015 Tour title all but sewn up.
The 2015 Tour de France concludes on Sunday with the traditional finale on the Champs Élysées in Paris. A bunch sprint is expected, with Mark Cavendish (Etixx-QuickStep) and André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal) looking to add to their tally of wins.
>>> Tour de France stage 21 full preview
Tour de France 2015 stage 20, Modane Valfréjus to Alpe d’Huez, 110.5km
1. Thibaut Pinot (Fra) FDJ
2. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar at 18 secs
3. Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Cannondale-Garmin at 41 secs
4. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 1-38
5. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky at 1-38
6. Pierre Rolland (Fra) Euopcar at 1-41
7. Richie Porte (Aus) Team Sky at 2-11
8. Winner Anacona (Col) Movistar at 2-32
9. Wouter Poels (Ned) Team Sky at 2-50
10. Ruben Plaza (Spa) Lampre-Merida at same time
11. Simon Yates (GBr) Orica-GreenEdge at 3-06
15. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana at 3-30
16. Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo at 3-30
22. Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-GreenEdge at 4-27
Overall classification after stage 20
1. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky in 81-56-33
2. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar at 1-12
3. Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar at 5-25
4. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana at 8-36
5. Alberto Contador (Spa) Tinkoff-Saxo
6. Robert Gesink (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo at 10-47
7. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek Factory Racing at 15-14
8. Mathias Frank (Swi) IAM Cycling at 15-39
9. Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r at 16-00
10. Pierre Rolland (Fra) Euopcar at 17-30
15. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky at 31-39
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