Tour de France 2016: Chris Froome protects lead on penultimate stage to all-but-seal yellow jersey

Ion Izaguirre wins final stage in the pouring rain as Froome finishes safely in GC group to close in on third Tour de France title

Chris Froome (Team Sky) stayed safe in the heavy rain on the final mountain stage of the 2016 Tour de France to all-but-seal his third Tour victory in four years.

Movistar’s Ion Izaguirre won the stage after a fearless descent of the super-wet Col du Joux Plane, while Froome was safe in the GC group to close in on overall victory with only the processional Champs-Elysees stage to come.

Already defending a lead of more than four minutes, Froome was rarely threatened in the yellow jersey with the slick roads more of a danger to him than his fellow GC men.

And, despite sliding out in the rain the previous day, it proved to be a trouble-free day for the Team Sky man to ensure he will ride into Paris for the largely processional final stage in the yellow jersey – barring an unlikely disaster, it will mean four British wins in the last five years.

Fellow Brit Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) also finished in the GC group, meanwhile, ensuring he will wear the white jersey of best young rider into Paris.

Adam Yates and Chris Froome stayed safe in the rain to ensure they will win the white and yellow jersey respectively (Pic: Sirotti)

Plenty of riders were keen to get into the breakaway in the final day in the mountains, and it was a group of 37 which got a gap on the peloton – including plenty of big names.

Jarlinson Pantano  (IAM Cycling), Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida), Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal), Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-QuickStep) and green jersey Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) have all won combativity prizes already at this year’s race and got up the road.

Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff) also made the split – sitting 12th overall, he was keen to sneak into the top ten overall – while Vincenzo Nibali and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana), Imanol Erviti and Izaguirre (Movistar) and Sergio Henao (Team Sky) all served as satellites for their respective GC men.

Sagan set a quick pace in the front group for Kreuziger, however, which succeeded in splitting it in two – the Tinkoff duo joined by Costa, Pantano, Nibali, Izaguirre, Alaphilippe and Alexis Gougeard (Ag2r-La Mondiale).

With the gap in excess of six minutes, Kreuziger moved up to second place in the virtual GC and his presence in the front group meant Team Sky got plenty of assistance from Fabio Aru’s Astana setting the pace.

The Col de la Ramaz saw the leadership change in the front group again, however, with De Gendt getting back to the leaders and going solo over the top, before Pantano and Alaphilippe descended well in the very wet to earn a gap of their own.

Sagan by that point had sat up – his work for the day done – but Kreuziger, De Gendt, Nibali, Costa, Henao, Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha), Wilco Kelderman (LottoNL-Jumbo) and Izaguirre formed a chasing group behind the two leaders.

Pierre Rolland (Cannondale), who had descended very cautiously after he slid out at high speed on a descent the previous day, also got up to the front group.

In the peloton, Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), who crashed twice on stage 19 and tumbled down the overall standings, was in trouble again and dropped out the back.

Sensing other riders in trouble, Orica-BikeExchange took a big pull on the front for Adam Yates, while Ag2r-La Mondiale also put riders in the wind.

Mollema did well to fight back, however, and charged clear off the front of the peloton on the Col du Joux Plane to show what might have been.

Panatano and Alaphillipe continued to ride together at the front of the race, but it was the back of the peloton attracting most attention as Fabio Aru (Astana) was spat out the back.

With plenty of team-mates for company, Aru was offered gels on the climb but looked to be paying for his efforts throughout the three weeks and could not get back on to the GC group.

Ion Izaguirre, pictured during the stage 18 time trial, won stage 20 of the 2016 Tour de France (pic: Sirotti)

The Astana man’s troubles did mean some freedom for Nibali, however – with no chance of his team-mate requiring his assistance up the road, the Giro d’Italia champion took off in pursuit of the two leaders.

Nibali’s attack, in turn, prompted Alaphilippe to accelerate at the front – aware of the danger the 2014 Tour de France winner would pose if he made the junction.

In what was left of the GC group, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) was next to attack as Mollema’s stint up the road came to an end – the Spaniard taking one final opportunity to attack in the mountains at his farewell Tour de France.

Back up front, Pantano responded to Alaphilippe’s attack but neither worked well enough together to keep the rampaging Nibali at bay, and the Italian went clear on his own at the front.

It was actually Izaguirre who countered the move, however, passing the two chasers and setting off in pursuit of Nibali with Pantano managing to find his wheel.

Chris Froome will be crowned Tour de France champion for a third time in four years in Paris (pic: Sirotti)

Zakarin, who had also been with Izaguirre and Nibali as they pursued to the two leaders, dropped back to support Rodriguez, meanwhile, and Henao rejoined his Team Sky team-mates on the front of the bunch.

Pantano found some extra reserves to help lead Izaguirre back across to Nibali as the trip crested the climb together – led by the Colombian.

The risks of the wet final descent were laid bare as Pantano misjudged one of the first bends however, and he ended up briefly riding on the grass, but Izaguirre was having no such issues.

Flying down the descent, Izaguirre built up a big solo lead, disappearing beyond the TV motos and out of sight of Nibali and Pantano too.

Rodriguez – now sans Zakarin – maintained a gap on the GC group further back, where Geraint Thomas led Froome down the mountain without taking any risks.

Kreuziger stayed between the two groups to sneak into the top ten overall, meanwhile – descending just less than two minutes behind Izaguirre.

Izaguirre sealed stage success, finishing 19 seconds ahead of Pantano, but it was all eyes on Froome as he allowed himself a small smile when the GC men crossed the finish line largely together nearly five minutes later.

Tour de France 2016: stage 20 – result

1) Ion Izaguirre (ESP) – Movistar – 4.06.45hrs
2) Jarlinson Pantano (COL) – IAM Cycling +19”
3) Vincenzo Nibali (ITA) – Astana +42”
4) Julian Alaphilippe (FRA) – Etixx-QuickStep +49”
5) Rui Costa (POR) – Lampre-Merida +1.43
6) Roman Kreuziger (CZE) – Tinkoff +1.44
7) Wilco Kelderman (NED) – LottoNL-Jumbo +2.30
8) Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP) – Katusha +3.24
9) Daniel Martin (IRL) – Etixx-QuickStep +4.12
10) Romain Bardet (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale – ST

General classification

1) Chris Froome (GBR) – Team Sky – 86.21.40hrs
2) Romain Bardet (FRA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +4.05
3) Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar +4.21
4) Adam Yates (GBR) – Orica-Bike Exchange +4.42
5) Richie Porte (AUS) – BMC Racing +5.17
6) Alejandro Valverde (ESP) – Movistar +6.16
7) Joaquim Rodriguez (ESP) – Katusha +6.58
8) Louis Meintjes (RSA) – Lampre-Merida – ST
9) Dan Martin (IRL) – Etixx-QuickStep +7.04
10) Roman Kreuziger (CZE) – Tinkoff +7.11

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