Chris Froome's hopes for a podium spot in Paris were dented by Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) on the final Tour de France stage in the Pyrenees when the Slovenian rider attacked on the final climb and the last descent, before eventually winning the stage into Laruns.
Froome (Team Sky) came into the stage looking to protect his third place overall and defend Geraint Thomas' stronghold on the yellow jersey. Team Sky were tested, first by the predicted challenge from AG2R La Mondiale and Movistar, and then by a series of attacks from Roglic, his teammate Steven Kruijswijk and Team Sunweb's Tom Dumoulin.
On the final ascent of the Col d'Aubisque, Team Sky had four riders left, with Froome even called into service despite briefly losing contact with the leaders. The defending champion marked one acceleration from Roglic while Thomas glued himself to Dumoulin. The race eventually evened out as the maillot jaune group crested the top of the climb and descended to Laruns.
A final assault from Roglic saw the elastic eventually snap, and the LottoNL-Jumbo rider gained enough time at the finish, including 10 bonus seconds, to reduce Froome to fourth on GC. With two stages to go, Thomas leads Dumoulin by 2:05, with Roglic 19 seconds further back. Froome is now fourth, 13 seconds down on the stage winner.
Saturday's 31km time trial would be an interesting test if Roglic and Froome were both on song, but the British rider is now running on fumes and unlikely to regain a spot on the podium. Dumoulin may even be worried about his second place, such was Roglic's consistency as he churned a huge gear towards the summit of the final climb.
"I was just hanging on there and doing what turns I could," Froome said as he freewheeled towards the Team Sky bus, as a menace of press eagerly tried to keep pace.
"I was trying to mark Roglic a bit and trying to help out in the final. Obviously, this is the end of a long and hard three weeks. We have the time trial tomorrow, but I think we're in a brilliant position with Geraint in the yellow jersey. He's feeling great and should get the job done."
Froome's transition towards domestique duties have been one of Team Sky's successes in this year's race. The team have clearly learned from a difficult 2012 in which Froome and Bradley Wiggins teetered on the edge of civil war. There have been enough battles for Team Sky and their management in this year's race without additional complications, and the ascendancy of Thomas, while unexpected from the outset of the race, has been seamless, at least in public.
This Tour also brings to an end Froome's Grand Tour streak that started last July and saw him collect further titles at 2017 Vuelta a Espana and 2018 Giro d'Italia. A Vuelta defense now seems unlikely, with the four-time winner looking forward to a break from the limelight.
"I'm looking forward to getting home," he after the finish on Friday. "I've a little baby girl on the way in the next few days. Hopefully I'll make it home in time for that, but this is now the fourth Grand Tour consecutively that I've raced. I'm looking forward to a bit of rest after this."
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Daniel Benson is the Editor in Chief at both Cyclingnews.com and BikePerfect.com. Based in the UK, he has worked within cycling for almost 15 years, and he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he has reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he runs the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.
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