Cyclist Froome rides closer to history

Marseille (AFP) –


Chris Froome will close on the Tour de France's greatest champions when he rides into Paris on Sunday to clinch his fourth victory in cycling's most prestigious race.

The 32-year-old Briton finished third in Saturday's 22.5km time-trial in Marseille to effectively secure a 54-second overall victory ahead of Colombia's Rigoberto Uran.

Now, only Eddy Merckx, Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain -- all with five wins -- have won more Tours than Froome.

"I'm not much of a person for looking back. Of course to have won it once (in 2013), the novelty was to be a Tour de France winner -- that was massive," he said.

"To come back and try to do it again the second time (in 2015) made it count even more.

"To do it consecutively last year for the first time -- two in a row -- was the big drive.

"For me now to have done it again, a fourth title, I never dreamed of being up there or even coming close to Eddy Merkcx, Anquetil or Indurain.

"It's amazing to be in this position, it's such a privilege."

It may have been the tightest victory of Froome's Tour successes but there was little to suggest he won't go on to match the record next year and even beat it in the future.

- 'Never secure' -

His top rivals Uran and Frenchman Romain Bardet have improved enough to match him in the mountains, but he still retains a significant edge in time-trials.

His winning margin was 54 seconds but he actually gained 1min 16sec with respect to Uran in the two time-trial stages.

Bardet finished third at 2:20 but gave up 2:36 in the two races against the clock.

"It was definitely never secure until I was over this line in Marseille," Froome said on Saturday.

"This morning, I didn't know what was going to happen. Of course I wanted to come out and win it today, I'm just grateful that on the road my legs felt good.

"Every Tour de France is hard, but to say one's harder than the others is difficult."

It won't just be Froome celebrating on Sunday.

Frenchman Warren Barguil will be crowned king of the mountains, Australia's Michael Matthews top sprinter and Simon Yates of Britain best young rider.

The white jersey will therefore remain in the same household for another 12 months as Yates's twin brother Adam won it last year.

"I'm really happy. A little bit relieved. I really wanted to come here and take this jersey and to pull it off is absolutely fantastic," Yates said.

"For sure, I'm looking forward to the Champs Elysees wearing the jersey."

The only remaining issue to resolve is who will win the 21st and final stage of this year's race, a 103km ride from Montgeron to the Champs Elysees in Paris.

German Andre Greipel won it the last two years but has yet to win a stage this year, while Matthews has claimed two.

"We have another opportunity tomorrow so I think everyone is going to be really focused on it," said Matthews.

"We'll see how the legs are. It's been a tough few days and everybody is going to be a bit tired but we'll see what we can do."