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Tour de France: Froome on verge of fourth title

Number one ... Froome, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey
Number one ... Froome, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey Peter Dejong

CHRIS Froome will tomorrow be crowned Tour de France champion for a fourth time after mauling his rivals with an emphatic time trial masterclass.

Froome put the exclamation mark on another title by taking the stick to closest threats Romain Bardet and Rigoberto Uran on the 22.5km race against the clock on the streets of Marseille.

Colombian Uran elevated himself to second overall, while French hope Romain Bardet had a nightmare, slipping to third.

Winless this year and with doubters starting to circling Sunday's largely ceremonial last stage into Paris will now serve to remind the cycling world of Froome's enduring power.

"It's just an amazing feeling. Absolutely an amazing feeling,” Froome said of another Tour de France win.

"Obviously it was so close coming into this time trial. It was basically all still to race for out on the road today, so I'm just blown away.

"There was a fair bit of pressure, but I think for me it's always a good thing having pressure. It just motivates me even more.”

Britain's Chris Froome, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, flashes a thumbs up on the podium after the 20th stage of the Tour de France  in Marseille
Britain's Chris Froome, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, flashes a thumbs up on the podium after the 20th stage of the Tour de France in Marseille Christophe Ena

Froome's fourth crown follows his 2013, 2015 and 2016 triumphs and puts the Brit in rare company. Only five-time winners Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain are more successful in the world's biggest bike race.

"It's a huge honour just to be mentioned in the same sentence as the greats of Tour de France history,” Froome said.

"I've also got a newfound appreciation as to just how difficult it was for those guys to have won five Tours de France. It's definitely not getting any easier each year and this year has certainly been the closest race of my Tour de France career.”

By Sunday night, Froome will have worn the yellow jersey in this year's edition for 15 of a possible 21 days, but for the first time in his Tour de France reign he failed to win a stage.

"Given the course we had this year, it was always the tactic to ride a three-week race and to not go out there on one day trying to blow the race apart and smash it for a stage win,” Froome said.

"It was always going to be about chipping away on every stage and making sure there weren't any massive losses on any days.

"Yes, I did suffer in the Pyrenees (Stage 12) and I did lose 20-25 seconds (22) on that stage ... but I'm extremely grateful it wasn't any worse than that. Normally when you have a had day in the mountains you can lose minutes.”

Froome took a 23-second lead over Bardet and a 29-second advantage over Uran into Saturday's time trial, with the Stade Velodrome providing an electric atmosphere for the start and finish points on a hot afternoon.

Froome finished third on the day, six seconds behind stage winner Maciej Bodnar, but he quickly extinguished any hope Bardet and Uran had of snatching the yellow jersey.

The Brit started well and would finish 26 seconds faster than Uran and a whopping 1min57sec ahead of Bardet, whose nightmare took him to within one second of losing his podium spot to Froome's Team Sky domestique Mikel Landa.

So contrasting were Froome and Bardet's time trials, Froome went within 20m of catching Bardet despite the latter starting two minutes earlier.

"I was just grateful when I got onto the road and the legs felt good,” Froome said.

"I felt as if I could push today and I wasn't on a bad day, at least, which was the main thing for me.”

Aussie Michael Matthews was roared into the stadium in the green jersey and will look to end his magical Tour with a final-day win on the Champs Elysees.

Orica-Scott's Simon Yates will win the white jersey for best young rider, with his lead over Louis Meintjes maintained when the pair finished with the same time trial time.

Frenchman Warren Barguil is this year's king of the mountains.