It's just three stages to go before Britain's Chris Froome, most likely, crowns his race this year in the Tour de France by reaching Paris amidst cheers. The yellow jersey holder looks set to retain the jersey following the end of the 21 stages on Sunday, and there is absolutely no competition in the offing.
Stage 18 constituted the second day at the Alpines and following the 186.5km stretch of race to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, the competition to Froome at the General Classification tally has remained unaffected, with the 2013 TDF Champion still leading by 3 minutes and 10 seconds over Movistar's Nairo Quintana – his closest rival.
The stage yesterday was won by Frenchman Romain Bardet – who raced ahead of his closest competitors atop the Col du Glandon – one of the categorised climbs of the stage – and he got an edge as he rode away solo in the downhill thereon with 34km to go.
Team Ag2r-La Mondiale's Bardet edged past his compatriot Pierre Rolland with a margin of 33 seconds, to register his first stage victory at the Tour de France.
"I've respected our plan this morning. I had to make the breakaway and that was the hardest part. In the past few days, we've seen big groups going up the road and that's complicated to deal with. I had to reach the col du Glandon with the smallest group possible," said Bardet, after the stage win.
"I was keen to attack at the bottom but I knew there would be head wind towards the top so I waited. I've raced as if the finishing line was at the top of the Glandon."
Meanwhile, Froome, who has had a shadow of performance-enhancing drugs looming large over him following his remarkable stage 10 win, has mentioned that holding the yellow jersey is still his number 1 priority, and he looks forward to finishing the tour this year on a high note.
"I'm in a good shape. I'm in a better shape than two years ago. I'm quite confident that I'm in control of the situation. There are two really hard stages to do. I hope to come through those two stages with no problem. To win a stage would be amazing but at this point I'm not going to kill my team-mates for a stage win", Froome said.
"The yellow jersey remains the priority. It'll be my first time climbing l'Alpe d'Huez with a Dutchman, Wout Poels, in the team. His family and friends will be there in the Dutch corner. It'll be our last challenge. We can expect a grand finale," he adds, as he looks ahead.
The 138km Stage 19 of the race travels from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to La Toussuire. The third day in the Alpines contains four categorised climbs – including the likes of Col de Chaussy and the major climb of Col de la Croix de Fer. The 18km climb of La Toussuire is also expected to have one of the most crucial finishes of the race this year.
The next two days will also be very crucial for Quintana to make any effort of a comeback and snatch the yellow jersey from Froome, and take the race to a late twist.
"On a tightened format, attacking can occur at any time. Especially when the course offers climbs up to the Col du Chaussy, a newcomer on the Tour de France, the Col de la Croix de Fer, followed by the Col du Mollard, before the final climb up to La Toussuire-Les Sybelles!" Christian Prudhomme, Directeor, Tour de France, told SBS.
"No title contender will feel relaxed on this stage."
WHERE TO WATCH LIVE
In India, the Tour de France Stage 19 can be watched live on Ten Sports (7:30pm IST), with the option of live streaming on tensports.com
Viewers in the UK can catch it on Eurosport and ITV4, with programmes starting at 1:15pm BST.
Highlights: Eurosport2 from 6pm to 7pm and from 9pm to 10:30pm; ITV4 from 7pm to 8pm;S4C from 10pm.
Viewers in the US can catch it on NBC from 8am ET - broadcasting four to five hours of live coverage every stage on its NBC Sports channel.
NBC Sports will also air a slightly compressed three-hour broadcast of each stage in primetime, starting at 8pm ET each night.