LE GRAND-BORNAND, France —
Traditionally, that last stage is a relaxed lap of honor, at least until the pack hits the cobbles of the Champs-Elysees. There, Mark Cavendish and other sprint-finish specialists will battle for the bragging rights of the stage win on that leafy boulevard the French modestly call the most beautiful avenue in the world. The unique dusk finish for this 100th Tour, just as the sun sets behind the Arc de Triomphe, should be extra special.
While the top spot is taken, podium places next to Froome are still very much up for grabs. Just 47 seconds separate second-placed Contador from Joaquim Rodriguez in fifth.
Sandwiched between those Spaniards are Colombian Nairo Quintana, in third, and Contador’s Czech teammate Roman Kreuziger, in fourth. They are all more than five minutes behind Froome.
With Froome so dominant and his lead so large, Saturday’s penultimate stage might have been devoid of all suspense were the battle for podium places not so close and intense behind him. Places aren’t just for honor. There are financial incentives, too. Second-place prize is $263,000. Third gets half that. Froome will get 450,000 euros.
With a succession of six climbs, getting harder and ending with a steep uphill, Stage 20 offers a fine arena for the contenders to land their final punches. The last climb today is HC or Hors Categorie, meaning it’s considered too hard to classify. Riders can lose or gain big time on such ascents, but surely not the more than five minutes they would need to dethrone Froome, not unless he crashes or has a similar mishap.
Quintana, who is 21 seconds behind Contador, wasn’t giving away his strategy,
“We have to wait and see how the stage develops. Sometimes you visualize it one way, and the stage doesn’t develop how you think it will. We’ll decide during the stage,” he said.
“It’ll be a very difficult and challenging stage, we’ll have to be very alert.”
Today will be Froome’s 12th day in the race leader’s yellow jersey. He took it in the Pyrenees and has worn it through Britanny, across to the Alps, in baking sunshine and, on Friday, a cold storm that doused riders up the day’s final climb.