Froome pictured with the pink jersey after Stage 20 of the 2018 Tour of Italy. Tim de Waele

Froome on the brink of historic Giro triumph after defending pink jersey during 20th stage

Chris Froome could become just the third man in history to hold all three Grand Tour titles concurrently.

BRITAIN’S CHRIS FROOME is on the brink of a maiden Giro d’Italia title after defending the leader’s pink jersey in the 20th and penultimate stage on Saturday.

Spain’s Mikel Nieve, a former teammate of Froome’s at Team Sky, capped a long breakaway with victory at the end of the 214km run from Susa to Cervinia.

Four-time Tour de France winner Froome, 33, now only has to survive the final stage in Rome on Sunday, a 115 km closed circuit race, to win his third successive Grand Tour after his wins in the Tour of Spain and Tour de France.

“I felt very in control. I felt everyone had such a hard day yesterday that nobody really had the legs to go anywhere,” said Froome.

This Giro has been brutal, when someone tends to have a bad day here it’s not just 30 seconds or a minute, it’s 10-15 minutes.

“You could see today (Thibaut) Pinot was in trouble and Astana turned the screw, so for us it was just to keep an eye on Tom. I sprinted to the finish just to keep in front of everything.”

Cycling: 101st Tour of Italy 2018 / Stage 20 Froome completes stage 20 from Susa to Cervinia. Justin Setterfield Justin Setterfield

It would signal a dramatic turnaround in fortunes for the Kenyan-born Briton, who before the start of Friday’s 19th stage was over three minutes behind leader Simon Yates (Mitchelton) and looked virtually out of victory contention.

The Team Sky rider had suffered two falls in the first week and struggled in summit finishes.

Thanks to an audacious plan concocted by his team, Froome went on the attack 80 km from the finish on the notoriously difficult Colle delle Finestre climb on Friday, leaving a struggling Yates to trail home over half an hour in arrears.

The impressive stage win gave Froome the pink jersey and left his closest rival, defending champion Tom Dumoulin, 45secs in arrears.

With overall victory in sight, Froome gave little to the Dutchman on the 20th stage. Both crossed the finish line together as Nieve handed Mitchelton a consolation stage victory.

Frenchman Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), meanwhile, saw his hopes of a podium finish in Rome dashed. He began the stage in third overall, but suffered a spectacular collapse.

Nieve, meanwhile, broke clear on the steepest part of Saint Pantaleon, 32km from the line with the Basque climber crossing over two minutes ahead of Dutch rider Robert Gesink of Team Lotto.

The Spaniard celebrated his third stage win after 2011 and 2016 on the day of his 34th birthday.

After what happened yesterday, it was very important for our team to make it up with a stage victory. Five stage wins are a lot! I couldn’t have dreamt of a better birthday,” Nieve said.

Froome is attempting to become only the third man in history to hold all three Grand Tour titles at the same time.

He escaped a provisional suspension over the adverse analytical finding in his urine sample at the Vuelta because salbutamol is allowed in certain doses.

The Sky rider remains free to race pending the resolution of the case by cycling’s governing body the UCI.

© – AFP 2018

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