Struggling Froome on verge of winning Tour de France

Christopher Froome, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, negotiates the 110.5-kilometer 20th stage in the French Alps.

JEFF PACHOUD/AFP/Getty Images

ALPE D’HUEZ, France — Chris Froome grimly hung on against a flying final attack Saturday from his Tour de France rival Nairo Quintana on the last Alpine climb of this year’s race to all but lock up the British rider’s second Tour victory in the space of three years.

Quintana was outstanding on the final ascent to the Alpe d’Huez ski station in what was the Colombian’s last real opportunity to unseat Froome. Piling on bursts of speed on the steep road teeming with frenzied spectators, the Movistar rider ate into the race lead that the Team Sky leader had carefully pieced together in the previous 19 stages.

Thibaut Pinot won Stage 20, for the third French victory at this Tour. But all eyes were on the race behind him for the overall race.

Lacking his usual explosive power, Froome gritted his teeth up the 21 hairpin bends as his advantage started to melt away, looking to limit the damage. Only at the end, in a final sprint at the ski station itself, did Froome show his top speed.

His tenacious defense was enough: The 1 minute and 12 seconds he still has over Quintana will see Froome crowned the winner on Sunday on the Champs-Elysees.

"We finished off the job," said Froome’s teammate Richie Porte.

Froome essentially won this Tour on the first big climbs in the Pyrenees in week two when, closely followed by teammate Porte, he triumphed at the La Pierre-Saint-Martin ski station to give him a big cushion at the top of the standings.

That carried him through the rest of those mountains, the hilly Massif Central region on the way to the Alps and dealt a heavy psychological blow to other podium contenders. With the sole exception of Quintana, they all but resigned themselves to fighting for second and third place.

Ultimately, Quintana left himself too much to do on the last of four days of climbing in the Alps. Just as in 2013, he is set to finish runner-up again to Froome on Sunday.