Froome faces arguably his biggest test of this year's Tour de France in the next 48 hours with several rivals still breathing down his neck, only seconds rather than minutes behind him. Thursday's 12th stage to Peyragudes ends with the second of just three mountain finishes at this year's Tour de France, while Friday's 13th stage is only 101km long but includes three major climbs.
Froome enjoyed a quiet day in the peloton as Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) won his fifth sprint victory in Pau on Wednesday. The Pyrenees were not visible because of low clouds but they were clearly on Froome's mind as he pedaled slowly south.
"It's going one of the stages that shapes this year's Tour de France, there are only two uphill finishes left. Tomorrow could be very decisive," Froome warned of Thursday's stage.
"We don't want to see any guys coming back into the game, back into the GC, so we'll be working so that other GC contenders don't go up the road and get time. We'll go after them for sure if they move."
Froome put Fabio Aru (Astana) at the top of his hit list.
Froome leads the Italian national champion by just 18 seconds, with Romain Bardet (AG2R-La Mondiale) third at 51 seconds and Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac) fourth at 55 seconds. The top 10 riders are still squeezed into four minutes, with now dangerous loose cannon Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) at 5:15.
"It's going to be a big stage, I'm just hoping it won't be as crazy as the last big mountain stage on Sunday," Froome said.
"For me, the biggest thing is keeping an eye on Aru; he's only 18 seconds back. I need to stick to him like glue tomorrow. If I can keep that gap until the final time trial in Marseille, I'll be happy."
Big time gaps on a steep finish
Froome confirmed that he has studied both Pyrenean stages in detail. He knows the climbs and the descents and the nasty uphill finish on the Peyragudes altiport runway that kicks up for 2.4km at 8 per cent and then steepens to nearly 20 per cent.
There will be no holding back for Friday's 101km stage to Foix.
"It's hard to hold anything back for the second stage, but it'll be in the back of our minds," he said.
"Friday is just 100km long but it'll be 100km of flat out racing. Maybe tomorrow's stage looks more decisive but we know that 100km stages can be important. We're ready for it.
"Tomorrow's stage is a bit different because we finish on an uphill airstrip at over 20 per cent. It's quite savage, and if someone blows in those final hundred metres, there could be some big time gaps."
Froome admitted he was feeling both nervous and excited, and convinced his form is on an upward spiral as the race progresses.
"I think it's good to be nervous sometimes. It keeps you on your toes. It'll be big day for sure," he predicted.
"I think anyone would agree with me that I'm in better shape now than at the Dauphiné. I'd like to think that it's an upward curve. I'll have more answers when we get back into the mountains, but mentally I believe I'm on an upwards curve and I hope I'll hit the last week in the best shape I've ever been in."
There will be no looking back for Froome this year on the way to Peyragudes. (Getty Images Sport)
Remembering Tommy Simpson, not his Peyragudes clash with Wiggins
Thursday will be a memorable day for Froome and for the history of British riders at the Tour de France.
While Froome and the Tour de France are racing in the Pyrenees, hundreds of other Britons, including 2012 Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, will ride up Mount Ventoux to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Tom Simpson's tragic death on the moonscaped summit of the legendary mountain.
Froome has now carved his own place in Tour de France history with three victories and 51 days in the leader's yellow jersey, but he understands the impact Simpson left on the sport, especially in Britain, despite Simpson's death being attributed to the use of amphetamines.
"He certainly left a legacy on which I'd like to believe that British riders racing the Tour de France continue to build on," Froome said.
"Even though the Tour de France doesn't go up Ventoux, it's a place where I have my own special memories and I imagine there will be thousands going up to his memorial tomorrow to honour that."
Froome will make his own pilgrimage at the Tour de France on Thursday. The race finished at Peyragudes in 2012 when he clashed with then-teammate Bradley Wiggins, who was on his way to winning the Tour de France. Froome wanted to win the stage and attacked several times before dropping back and respecting team orders to stay with Wiggins. It was one of several episodes that ended the professional and personal relationship between the two Britons.
However, Froome refused to look back to 2012 and how he may have lost a chance to win the Tour de France that year.
"No regrets, that's not who I am," Froome said firmly.
"I want to look forward, and in that moment I made the right decision."
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