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Chris Froome hails ‘greatest achievement’ after all but sealing the Tour de France and La Vuelta double

Chris Froome hails 'greatest achievement' after all but sealing the Tour de France and La Vuelta double

Chris Froome will become the first Briton to win La Vuelta

Chris Froome hailed his “greatest achievement” after all but completing the Tour de France and La Vuelta double.

The Briton just needs to finish Sunday’s procession into Madrid to be crowned the first Briton to win La Vuelta and become only the third man to complete the Tour-Vuelta double in the same season.

Bernard Hinault was the last man to achieve the feat in 1978, with fellow Frenchman Jacques Anquetil managing it in 1963.

But Team Sky’s Froome is the first to manage it since La Vuelta moved from before the Tour in April to its present position as the year’s final grand tour in 1995.

Heading into Saturday’s stage 20 with an advantage of one minute and 37 seconds over Bahrain-Merida’s Vincenzo Nibali, Froome extended his lead by finishing second on the brutal Alto de l’Angliru.

Trek-Segafredo’s Alberto Contador took a sensational and emotional solo victory in his final grand tour before retirement but came 20 seconds short of a place on the podium.

Behind him, Froome and Team Sky lieutenant Wout Poels crossed the line 17 seconds later, extending the Briton’s lead to two minutes 15 seconds in the general classification after Nibali struggled on the final climb following an earlier crash.

“I think it probably is my greatest achievement, being the first person to win the Tour de France and then go on to win the Vuelta,” said Froome.

“It’s an amazing feeling. The team has just been incredible over the last few months. It’s meant so much to me, the way they have supported us. I owe a massive thank you to all my team-mates.”

Froome’s three weeks in Spain have not been plain sailing, despite him holding the leader’s red jersey since stage three.

Stage 16 saw the 32-year-old hit the deck twice on a descent while he saw his lead slashed on stage 17 after being dropped by his rivals.

But he made no mistake in the 117.5-kilometre penultimate stage from Corvero de Asturias to Alto de l’Angliru, a climb that saw Bradley Wiggins lose the red jersey in 2011, the same year Froome had the first of his three second-place finishes at the event.

Froome said: “I have to say that is probably the toughest grand tour I’ve ever ridden.

“There was something different happening every day. I’ve had good days and then I’ve been lying on the ground, bleeding, thinking my race might be over.

“It’s been a roller coaster – absolutely relentless. It’s a relief now to finish and to be getting to Madrid.

“L’Angliru is such a brutal climb, so congratulations to Alberto (Contador) for finishing off the way he did. That was an amazing way to end a career. He was just too strong for us today.” 

Contador, a three-time Vuelta winner, had attacked on the early slopes of the final climb to the delight of the locals.

The 34-year-old collided with a fan with 6km left but remained upright before riding on to victory.

Contador said: “There couldn’t be a better finish, winning on the Angliru. No way for a better end.”

He was over three minutes adrift of Froome in the GC standings, so the Briton’s focus was firmly on Nibali.

The Italian was one of a number of riders to crash on the slippy descent of Alto de la Cordal and while he caught back up with Froome’s group before the Angliru, he cracked in the closing stages.

Nibali remained in second overall, 36 seconds clear of Team Katusha Alpecin’s Ilnur Zakarin, who is set to take his first grand tour podium.

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