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Relieved Froome closes in on third title

MORZINE, France — After two crashes, a bloodied knee and even a run up legendary Mont Ventoux, a relieved Chris Froome can cruise into Paris today and secure his third Tour de France title in four years.

Froome kept his lead intact during the final day of climbing — and descending — in the Alps on Saturday and heads to the mostly ceremonial finish on the Champs-Elysees with a comfortable advantage of 4 minutes, 5 seconds over Romain Bardet of France.

"It feels like it's been a roller coaster," Froome said. "It's just been an amazing race where I've really taken on the race."

The highlights for Froome were a daring downhill attack and stage victory in the eighth leg and getting into a late breakaway amid strong crosswinds in Stage 11.

"You just can't script moments like that," Froome said. "It's bike racing at its best. ... I really felt like a kid again."

Froome was also slowed by a motor bike crash on Ventoux, prompting him to run up the road when he saw that his bike was damaged. He then fell hard on a slippery descent in Stage 19 on Friday.

Wearing bandages on his right knee and elbow for Saturday's stage, Froome was never in trouble as his top lieutenants at Team Sky escorted him up and down each of the day's four climbs.

"It's been a really intense race. ... It was incredible to cross the last finish line with my teammates," Froome said. "They were with me for the entire Tour."

On the final descent, which had a vertical drop of more than 700 meters (2,300 feet), Froome was extremely careful but none of his main rivals attacked.

Froome, the Kenyan-born British rider who won the Tour in 2013 and 2015, then eased up just before the line and lost a few seconds to his main rivals. He let out a thin smile when he reached the finish as his Sky teammates cheered him on.

"There was no surprise because Chris Froome won. But for me it was not the same as in previous years," Tour director Christian Prudhomme said. "When he attacked in the Peyrsourde descent it was such a surprise. And he did it again when he went with (Peter) Sagan in Montpellier. I liked it very much. Chris Froome was very good, his opponents less good."

Froome is set to become the first rider to defend the Tour title since Miguel Indurain won the last of his five straight titles in 1995. Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven consecutive titles for doping.

Two-time runner-up Nairo Quintana of Colombia is third, 4:21 behind.

"I still need to get the yellow jersey to Paris tomorrow but the race is done and dusted," Froome said.

Spanish rider Jon Izagirre won the rainy penultimate stage by attacking on the slippery descent from the Col de Joux Plane into Morzine.

Jarlinson Pantano of Colombia finished second, 19 seconds behind Izagirre, while 2014 champion Vincenzo Nibali crossed third, 42 seconds back. All three riders were part of an early breakaway.