Cycling: Chris Froome beats Alberto Contador in thrilling sprint finish to put his first stage-race win in reach

British rider retains overall lead ahead of tomorrow's final stage

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Barring last-minute disaster, Chris Froome will claim the first stage race win of his career on Saturday after claiming a stunning sprint victory over Alberto Contador and Joaquim Rodriguez on Friday’s tough trek though the hills around Muscat.

Froome outpowered Contador by centimetres after the Spaniard launched an attack on the second of yesterday’s three final steep climbs that, in Froome’s words, “had the peloton in pieces.”

Although the front end of the battered bunch briefly regrouped, Contador stomped on the accelerator again on the final ascent. “Rodriguez and I were just behind,” Froome recounted, “and managed to close the gap over the top.”

“I’d had in my mind that I'd always be with teammates and be able to control everything. To have it all blown to pieces the second time up the climb, did make me feel a bit exposed.”

Froome alone, though, was strong enough to handle the situation and “Coming down to the bottom [of the final climb] we knew Contador only had a small advantage and just rolled through together. [After catching Contador] the last two kilometres were quite tactical, with lots of attacking between us.”

Froome then opened up the final three-way sprint, enabling him to stay closer to the barriers and forcing his rivals to use extra energy to combat the gusting head-wind - energy they, ultimately, did not have.

For the Briton Friday’s win, the first since last year’s Tour de France opening mountain-top stage, all but guarantees him the overall win. Sky’s decision to use him as team leader this week was already confirmed when he took the race lead on Thursday. Defeating Contador twice in as many days on such tough terrain represents a hugely encouraging step for bigger challenges in France this summer.

“They threw everything at us and it was a question of whether Chris could resist that,” a visibly pleased Sir Dave Brailsford told The Independent.

“Chris took everything on board, didn’t panic and managed perfectly. He showed a lot of maturity.” His strength, too, on a stage which by common consent was far harder than it appeared on paper, was plain for all to see.

Brailsford also had praise for Sir Bradley Wiggins, building more slowly towards his first big goal of the Giro, and working hard for Froome throughout the week’s racing - a reversal of their roles in last year’s Tour. And if solid teamwork helped Wiggins be the winner in Paris last July, in Oman on Saturday it will be Froome who reaps the benefits.