London, Friday – Chris Froome will tackle the home straight on Friday in his bid for a fourth Tour de France title.
The 19th stage is an almost dead straight 222.5km run from Embrun in the Alps down to Salon de Provence, not far from the Mediterranean.
In theory, it should be a good day for the sprinters with a flat finish, but the lumpy terrain throughout most of the stage could encourage some dare-devils to go on a breakaway, with this the last chance for one to succeed all the way to the finish.
Saturday will see a 22.5km time-trial around Marseille while Sunday’s 103km procession to Paris is almost certain to end in a bunch sprint.
On paper at least, Friday’s stage looks a simple, if long, task. But coming after almost three weeks of toil and effort, traversing five mountain ranges notably, then Froome and his rivals can’t afford to relax, even with one eye on Saturday’s race against the clock.
Froome is feeling confident after coming through two tough Alpine stages and knowing that he is a better time-trialist than the only two riders still in contention to beat him – Romain Bardet and Rigoberto Uran.
Bardet has impressed with his inventiveness and guile but he simply hasn’t had the strength to make a significant dent in Froome’s armour.
At the finish on the Col d’Izoard on Thursday, Froome certainly had the look of a man who felt the job was almost done.
“I wouldn’t say it’s quite won yet, but certainly the toughest part of the Tour is behind us with the Alps and Pyrenees done now,” said the 32-year-old Briton.
“I’m happy to get through, also better than in previous years – I’ve always struggled (in the Alps) so it’s nice to get that one out of the way now.”
While that race is almost over, one competition did find its winner on Thursday.
Warren Barguil sewed up the king of the mountains polkadot jersey as he won his second stage of the race – he must now just reach Paris to be crowned.
Australian Michael Matthews is all but mathematically the green sprinters’ points jersey winner – he needs either a single point on Friday or for Andre Greipel to fail to take maximum points in order to win. – AFP