Tour de France leader Chris Froome survived a thrilling Col d’Izoard climb on Thursday, holding on to his yellow jersey as Frenchman Romain Bardet’s hopes of mounting a decisive attack fizzled out.
With fellow Frenchman Warren Barguil producing a stunning burst on the brutal 14km (8.7-mile) climb to the summit to claim victory on stage 18 of the 21-stage race, all eyes were on what was going on back down the twisting road.
Team Sky’s Froome, who began the final big day of climbing in the Alps with a 27-second lead over Bardet and Rigoberto Uran, was pressurised on the unrelenting slopes as Bardet’s AG2R La Mondiale team tried to loosen his grip.
But Froome crossed the line just behind Bardet, who he now leads by 23 seconds, with a Uran – now 29 seconds behind – also in close support, and now only an extraordinary meltdown or a crash seem likely to stop the Briton taking a fourth Tour title.
Barguil sealed the polka dot climber’s jersey with a brilliant ride up the iconic Izoard climb, which was staging a summit finish for the first time in Tour history.
Colombia’s Darwin Atapuma was second.
Friday’s stage is a relatively straightforward 222-km ride south towards the coast before Saturday’s time trial in Marseille, where Froome is likely to extend his lead over his rivals for the yellow jersey.