Tour de France 2013: Focused Chris Froome rides out Alpine thunderstorm

Leader battles against complacency with Paris in sight as Quintana closes on podium finish

Le Grand-Bornand

Sweaty, tired faces. Rainsoaked, grimy bodies. Mouths jutting open and gasping for breath every time the road steepens. The third straight Alpine stage of the Tour de France, six hours of straight riding, 204 kilometres long, and with five major cols, saw no major changes overall. Chris Froome remains solidly in the lead, and few developments amongst an increasingly exhausted peloton - except that the collective tiredness has settled in a little deeper, and Paris, now just two days away, must seem more appealing than ever.

There were five abandons today, the most for any single stage of the Tour. One team seems almost impervious to this general tendency - Spaniards Movistar, whose Portuguese rider Rui Costa rode through heavy thunderstorms to claim his second stage win in four days and whose talented young Colombian rider, Nairo Quintana, after attacking Froome and Alberto Contador on the Alpe d'Huez on Thursday, remains firmly on line for a podium finish in Paris. All this, aged 23, and in his maiden Tour de France: a rider to watch.

Meanwhile his team-mate and room-mate Costa applied a carbon copy of his tactics on Tuesday, moving into the break of 35 riders that formed early on the stage and then blasting away on the final climb. One fast descent on smooth, rainsoaked roads and another solo victory was in the bag  - with the 26-year-old pointing two index fingers at the sky as he crossed the line to underline that this was not the first.

"I wasn't feeling so good as I had done on Tuesday so I had to measure my strength carefully on that last climb," the quietly-spoken Costa said afterwards. One of the most prized riders now with three Tour stages in his career, two victories in the prestigious Tour de Suisse  - cycling's fourth biggest stage race - and beginning to invite comparisons with Joaquim Agostinho, Portugal's greatest ever rider, Costa is on the market for a new team in 2013 and although he was cagey about where he will be going, today's victory will have boosted his contract price considerably.

Froome, meanwhile, had a comparatively calm day as the peloton wended its way over two enormous Alpine cols, the 21 kilometre Glandon and 19 kilometre Madeleine. It was not until the race hit the final climb, the 11 kilometre Col de la Croix Fry where both Alberto Contador's Saxo-Tinkoff team and - predictably - Movistar heightened the pressure at the front of the pack to a near-maximum.

As the rain teemed down and the sky darkened, Froome was isolated  - briefly this time - from all his team-mates. But although the leader's group shrunk to perhaps a dozen riders, of the favourites only Movistar's Alejandro Valverde managed briefly to go clear.

AfterValverde was caught, Rodriguez made the briefest of charges forwards, with Froome's yellow jersey hovering close behind  - ever the dominating figure of the race, as the Sky rider has been since his first mountain top stage win nearly a fortnight before.

With the stage win already taken by Rui Costa and Porte returning to his side, Froome stayed close to the front of the half-dozen strong group. But although the ever-restless Rodriguez tried a late acceleration towards the line, Froome - albeit so tired he cut down on the time spent in his round of usual press conferences - crossed the line safely. And Paris is now almost within sight.

"I'm really relieved to have this stage behind me,  I was quite nervous about it and it was very tough to be there," Froome said afterwards.

"There was more than 4,500 metres of climbing, it was a very hard day and the objective was to remain on the wheels and stay in control."

Asked if he was excited at the prospect of potentially winning the Tour with just one hard day remaining, Froome was guarded. "Having five minutes advantage is a really good position to be in but let's not be too complacent."

"It would be very hard for anybody to take five minutes on me in the last stage, but I will need to stay focussed. One final big effort and then we'll be able to relax a little."

The King of the Mountains jersey is also resting on Froome's shoulders, although his lead is only one point, compared to the five minutes and 11 seconds advantage he has on Contador. Should he do so, he will be just the fourth rider in the Tour's history to manage to take both classifications in a single year. "It would be a nice bonus to win it, but I have to be careful about the yellow first, and make sure I get that," Froome said.

Asked if he was losing any sleep at the prospect of winning the Tour, Froome grinned and said "no problem at all, in fact I'm sleeping like a baby, I'm absolutely dead."

The battle for the podium, then, will now come down to tomorrow's final mountain stage. If Froome remains well out of reach - and with just one difficult, but short, Alpine stage left, it would take a major disaster to dislodge him - the order and names of the riders who will stand beside him in Paris is far from certain.

Just 21 seconds separate Alberto Contador, second overall, from Costa's team-mate Quintana in third place, whilst Contador's team-mate Roman Kreuziger and former World number one Joaquim Rodriguez are also within striking distance of the Paris podium.

Even as the Tour reaches the end of its week-long trek across the Alps and the rain continues to pour down on the race, then, the sparks will continue to fly.

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior SQL DBA (SQL Server 2012, T-SQL, SSIS) London - Finance

£30000 - £33000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior SQL DBA...

C# Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, MVC-4, HTML5) London

£35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Web Develop...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution