Chris Froome admitted on Monday he wouldn’t feel serene during Saturday’s time-trial in Marseille in the penultimate Tour de France stage unless he can take more time out of his rivals beforehand.
The stage 20 race against the clock will be the last opportunity for any overall contender to make a bid for the yellow jersey.
And even though Froome is widely considered a better time-trialist than his rivals, and he currently leads the race by 18 seconds from Fabio Aru, the Briton said he’d want more of a buffer to feel genuinely secure.
“I wouldn’t be sleeping easy (if that’s the advantage he had on Saturday). We always knew it was going to be a close race and that’s exactly what it is,” said the 32-year-old reigning champion.
“This was to be expected and I knew that every stage, every single second is going to count.”
Three riders currently sit within 30 seconds of Froome — Aru at 18, Romain Bardet at 23 and Rigoberto Uran at 29 — with fourth placed Dan Martin only 1min 12sec further back.
But it is Uran who Froome fears most as the Colombian is usually the best time-trialist of the Sky team leader’s closest competitors.
“Each rival presents different threats. If you look at Fabio Aru, he won the first mountain-top finish on the Planche des Belles Filles.
“Perhaps he didn’t have such a good day a couple of days ago, (but) he’s been strong in the third week (of a Grand Tour) before. We’ll have to wait and see how he goes.
“Romain Bardet has always been strong in the last week of a Grand Tour and he also has the team (AG2R) to back him up, as we saw yesterday — he put me under a lot of pressure yesterday and we really had to use the whole team just to control that situation.
“Rigoberto Uran may be more of the dark horse who just slips under the radar a little bit.
“He’s probably the strongest time-trialist of this group of GC riders, so with Marseille in mind he’s a big threat.”
‘THE END OF THE YELLOW’
This Tour has been far from plain-sailing for Froome, who crashed in the first week and has had two mechanical problems at crucial times in mountain stages over the last week.
He admitted that when he had such a difficulty on Sunday, and had to stop to get a spare wheel off team-mate Michal Kwiatkowski while his rivals rode off up the road, he feared a fourth Tour victory was slipping away.
“I think it dawned the second AG2R put the hammer down yesterday and I was standing still on the side of the road with Kwiato trying to change my back wheel, I knew then already that this could be the end of my fight for the yellow jersey.
“So I’m just incredibly grateful obviously the way my team-mates responded under pressure there and that I had the legs to get back to that main group by the top of the climb.
“Had I not got there, that could have been the end of the race for the overall for me.”
“At this point, it’s fighting for every second.”