Froome edges closer to glory as Rui Costa claims his second stage win
Relief was the primary emotion for Chris Froome as he moved a big step closer to Tour de France glory by retaining his overall lead on the dangerous mountain stage to Le Grand-Bornand.
With time running out for his rivals Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana to claw back some of their deficit going into the final weekend of the Tour, attacks were expected over today's five categorised climbs, a stage many riders considered the toughest on a Tour which has already featured Mont Ventoux and a double ascent of the Alpe d'Huez.
But instead Froome comfortably covered the few feints thrown his way in increasingly wet weather and had a relatively drama-free day following yesterday's sugar crash and time penalty on the Alpe d'Huez.
"I definitely had a sigh of relief after getting today out of the way - this was one of the stages I was most worried about," said Froome, who leads from Contador by five minutes 11 seconds.
"It had a lot of climbing and, with bad weather forecast, it had the potential to get out of hand.
"I was ready for anything after the way the Tour has gone so far. The guys did take it up and attack on final climb and go pretty quickly down the other side, so I am relieved to get through it."
The result leaves only one more major hurdle - the hors categorie climb to Annecy-Semnoz at the end of tomorrow's 125km stage - between Froome and a victory parade in Paris on Sunday night.
"I don't want to get complacent at this stage," Froome added.
"Tomorrow's stage is only 125km but it is still one more day to get out of the way before relaxing and heading into Paris."
While Froome was covering his rivals, Rui Costa raced clear to victory, his second stage win this week after stage 16 to Gap on Tuesday.
The Portuguese took over on the front on the final climb of the day and won from Andreas Kloden by 49 seconds, and more than eight and a half minutes ahead of Froome.
Costa had overtaken Pierre Rolland on the final climb, the Col de la Croix, as the weather closed in.
Rolland had led the way over the previous three categorised climbs to get back to within a point of Froome in the King of the Mountains classification, although he will once again wear the polka-dots tomorrow with Froome decked out in yellow.
Dan Martin's struggles due to illness continued with the stage nine winner looking a shadow of himself as he limped to 129th on today's stage almost 30 minutes behind Rui Costa dropping him from 19th to 32nd overall.
Nicolas Roche was 70th today and he slips one place to 43rd.