(Reuters) - Chris Froome all but assured himself of becoming the first Briton to win the Giro d’Italia after comfortably resisting some last-ditch attacks by defending champion Tom Dumoulin on Saturday’s 20th and penultimate stage.
Team Sky’s Froome backed up his astonishing solo attack of Friday, when he turned the race on its head, with a controlled ride and will take a 46-second lead into Sunday’s final processional stage into Rome.
Barring a calamity Froome, 33, will celebrate victory and add the one Grand Tour missing from his collection, joining cycling icons Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault as one of only three riders to win all three Grand Tours in succession.
“Just incredible feelings, quite emotional,” said Froome, who crashed even before turning a wheel in anger in the first stage in Israel and was off the pace for the first week.
Until Friday he was still more than three minutes adrift of long-time leader Simon Yates but in the space of 24 hours he has taken an iron-fisted grip on the race.
“It has been such a brutal race but I have to say, it has been a beautiful, beautiful event,” he said.
“There were attacks I had to follow in the final, but I felt in control and capable of following today... everyone had such a hard day yesterday no one really had the legs to go anywhere.”
Froome, who is still under investigation over an adverse doping test result following a urine sample at last year’s Vuelta which showed excessive use of an asthma inhaler, again showed his class in the mountains.
With Spain’s Mikel Nieve celebrating his 34th birthday in style by winning Saturday’s stage — a 214-km ride from Susa to Cervinia — after an attack with 30km to go, the real action was unfolding back down the road.
Froome, who began the day 40 seconds ahead of Dumoulin after Friday’s heroic 80-km solo attack, looked fresh and spent the day keeping a careful eye on the Dutchman.
When the inevitable attacks came Froome had all the answers and never looked like leaking any of his advantage, crossing the line in seventh and being congratulated by his team.
Dumoulin tried everything he could but reflected on the difficulty of the stage.
“This has been the toughest stage so far, I’m happy with my second place. I did everything right... I’m not the best climber,” he said.
Frenchman Thibaut Pinot, who was third overall at the start of the stage, saw his chances of a podium finish end at the second climb up Col de St-Pantaleon when he almost came to a standstill, clearly suffering from the three-week ordeal.
Colombia’s Miguel Angel Lopez moved up to third.
Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Toby Davis and Clare Fallon