Day two of three in the Alps, and just tomorrow’s short but punchy penultimate stage lies between Team Sky’s Chris Froome, runner-up to Bradley Wiggins in last year’s race, and the overall victory in the Tour de France; today, however, belonged to Movistar’s Rui Costa, who in a near carbon-copy of Tuesday’s Stage 16 to Gap, attacked late on and held his nerve on the final descent to take his second stage win in four days. Here’s our round-up of the reaction.
Unlike on Tuesday, when he took victory in Gap, today on the way to Le Grand-Bornand at the end of the 204.5km stage from Bourg d’Oisans, Costa had to deal with wet roads on the way down to the finish after overhauling Europcar’s Pierre Rolland on the final climb.
The two-time Tour de Suisse winner, who today takes the third Tour de France stage win of his career, has more than confirmed his class but is reticent about whether he can emerge to become an overall challenger in future years.
Rui Costa of Movistar, winner of today’s Stage 19, his second stage victory this week.
The Tour is a race I like, and I find it important to present me with the best form each time. I have won two stages this year, and I'm glad of that.We'll see what the future holds for me, and if I can become a runner overall at the Tour, but now I'm quite satisfied with what I did this year.
With Sunday’s stage into Paris traditionally a day of truce in the General Classification, Froome is now less than 24 hours away from becoming the second British rider to win the Tour de France; he finished runner-up to team mate Bradley Wiggins 12 months ago.
He’s not quite counting his poulets yet, but it’s difficult to see how anyone can overturn the 5 minute 11 seconds advantage he currently holds over his closest rival, Saxo-Tinkoff’s Alberto Contador.
Chris Froome of Team Sky, still leading the 100th Tour de France by 5 minutes 11 seconds with just two stages remaining.
It was pretty hard in the end. On paper that was one of the hardest days that we've done in this Tour in terms of the amount of climbing that we faced.
Personally, a sigh of relief after today but it was always to be a day I was sort of quite cautious of, thinking that today it could really kick off.
So to have got to the finish without any losses and, despite the weather being quite wet and tricky towards the end, I'm pretty happy to have that behind me now.
It looked quite controlled but I can tell you everyone's legs were hurting out there at the end. I think, especially after yesterday's stage, quite a few people were feeling it.
There were a few things going on in today's race; it was definitely a bit of a race within a race, people looking at the team competition and trying to have numbers up the front... but it did get grippy towards the end with the GC riders, especially going over the last climb and the descent in the rain.
But all in all, a pretty good day and I'm really happy with the guys – they really came to the fore this morning and showed that they're here to protect the yellow jersey and hopefully we've just got the one day left to do that.
Tomorrow's stage is just 125 kiometres, but it's going to be a full-on race – that's what I'm expecting anyway.
We've just got to stay on it, keep doing what we've done all the way through this Tour and see it all the way until tomorrow evening.
I felt pretty tired after yesterday to be honest but I'm really relieved to have today behind us.
This is an incredible position for me to be in.
I mean, to be here one day away from Paris with a five minute advantage on the second place on GC is really a good position to be in but, having said that, I don't want to be too complacent at all.
With Saxo-Tinkoff heading the team classification, but RadioShack Leopard and AG2R La Mondiale breathing down their necks, the Danish team was prominent at the front of the GC group today; Contador, however, hinted that defending that team classification place may now be a bigger priority than his trying to eat into Froome’s advantage.
Alberto Contador of Saxo-Tinkoff, twice a Tour de France winner, and currently second overall.
The team was doing a great job today controlling the peloton for the team classification and if I had attacked, I could have caused trouble for Roman [Kreuziger].
There was a moment when I did consider attacking because the rain is good for me, but we decided the best thing was to stay together as the descent was not really tricky and it was better to be calm and stay together.
Tomorrow, everything will depend on the legs.
Today I felt good in the finale and tomorrow's tactics will also be depending on the breakaway situation.
One of the chief protagonists of today’s stage was Europcar’s Pierre Rolland, who caught earlier escapee Ryder Hesjedal of Garmin-Sharp on the day’s second big ascent, the Col de Madeleine, and went on to crest it ahead of the Canadian, ending the day just 1 point behind Froome on the mountains classification; the Frenchman, who won the Alpe d’Huez stage on the final Friday of the 2011 race, has struggled on summit finishes this time round and doesn’t fancy his chances tomorrow.
Pierre Rolland of Europcar, now lying second in the mountains classification.
When I saw that there was [Ryder] Hesjedal at the front, I thought it was a good candidate for a breakaway.
He is a solid, and that does not quit. Only now it was not the best we've seen from Hesjedal.
With the level he had when he won the Giro, I think it would have been different. In any case I believed something could happen; when you are in this situation, it is essential to believe in what we do.
I aimed only for the stage win, and then there was the opportunity to take points for the polka-dot jersey, but it was not the goal.
It was the big stage in the Alps, and I've ridden it in its entirety in training.
I gave everything I had, and when I take my shower, I will have no regrets.
But Rui Costa is a very strong, and when he joined me at the front he was much cooler than me.
Tomorrow I will see if there are opportunities to take points for the polka-dot jersey, but it may not be before the final climb.
Because with the efforts that I have provided today, I can not see myself finishing in the top 10 in Semnoz.
And favourites will certainly play to win them, so they'll score points.
Besides the General Classification, Froome also leads the mountains classification – the last man to win both was Eddy Merckx, in 1970.
The biggest danger to Froome potentially adding the polka dot jersey to the maillot jaune – Robert Miller, in 1984, is the only British rider to have won the mountains classification before – may be Nairo Quintana of Movistar; he is set to win the best young rider’s classification, and no-one has ever won that, and the mountains classification in the same year.
Currently, Quintana lies fourth in the competition, one point behind third-placed Mikel Nieve of Euskaltel, but he is likely to be the chief threat to Froome on that final ascent tomorrow which, as a summit finish, carries double points – moreover, it’s Hors-Catégorie.
The Colombian has looked strong on the mountain top finishes this year, the only rider who has repeatedly put Froome under pressure, and while he has acknowledged that the overall win is probably beyond him, the 21 second deficit he carries on Contador going into tomorrow’s penultimate stage means fireworks are guaranteed.
Today, however, his first thought was for his team mate who had won his second stage of the week.
Nairo Quintana of Movistar, third overall and leading the best young rider’s classification.
We're all really happy about Rui's victory.
We had three riders at the front and they did a superb job. This victory proves that we are still a solid team, able to fight for all goals.
In my case, the final climb was really fast and the rain took us a bit off the mood to attack.
We tried to send Valverde ahead in the finale to see if we could bridge later, but we had no chance to attack - at least we ended up still into the podium, with no troubles.
We will have to see how the stage holds tomorrow; sometimes, one thinks that things will go some way, and they turn the other way round in reality.
It will be a hard day to keep the podium and we will have to pay attention to any attack from our rivals.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.