After giving it everything on a valient attack up Alpe d'Huez, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) finished just 18 seconds away from conquering the most famous climb in modern cycling.
Quintana crossed the line behind Frenchman Thibaut Pinot (FDJ). Froome finished the day in fifth position, with enough time up his yellow sleeves to secure the overall Tour de France title that Quintana so desperately hoped for.
Nevertheless, the effort has cemented 25-year-old Quintana as a rider to be reckoned with. Tonight he will be crowned at the best young rider at the Tour for the second time in his career. Barring any misfortune, he has all but confirmed his second place on the in the overall classification, 1min 12sec behind Froome.
“We fought all that we could to try and gain the time we had lost on Froome, with an attacking strategy from far, far away from the finish, trying to isolate him at the Croix de Fer,” Quintana said after the stage.“Yet we couldn't open a big gap and we had to give all into the final ascent."
"Winner Anacona did an amazing job for me, riding strong and steady through most of Alpe d'Huez, and the whole team helped me much from the very start, but it wasn't to be today.
"I leave the race satisfied. We lost the Tour into the first week, but I'll stay content after all good things we found during this race. I've got an excellent team, which always took care and supported me, and we all are happy with this.”
The penultimate stage of the Tour saw riders take on a relatively short 110km journey including a second ascent of the Col de la Croix de Fer, the Hors Category climb which also featured in Stage 19.
Just more than 60 kilometres from the finish line, a move from Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde, who started the day third on the overall standings, was seconded by Quintana. The duo worked together in a final attempt to blow Froome's Sky train to pieces.
The Briton had to respond by himself, but was joined by Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) and got through the emergency and before the group recomposed.
Winner Anacona (Movistar) was active in the early attacks and pursued a four-man attempt up the road. The small group quickly amassed a two-minute advantage that would take the riders into perfect position before the 14km Alpe d'Huez climb.
It was there that the Movistar team rode a tactical and courageous ascent, which doubled as the final showdown for the Tour's general classification riders. Three accelerations from Nairo, almost consecutive, and a final attack from Valverde forced Froome to limit his losses and carefully manage his domestiques to stop the 'bleeding'.
Quintana’s Alpe d’Huez assault saw him gain a 1min 20sec advantage over Froome by the end of the stage but, depsite being one of the quickest climbs of the mountain in history, it wasn’t enough to secure the Colombian climber the number one position on the final podium.
Valverde returned to ride with the race leader after pushing for Quintana. Meanwhile, Quintana found another excellent piece of support as he reached Anacona further up the road. He was able to rush through the central part of the challenging ascent then attack in search for Pinot, who held off Quintana and won the stage.
Quintana heaped praise on Valverde and used his time in the spotlight to ensure his team-mate’s achievements were recognised with similar acclaim.
“I'm so, so excited about his podium finish. It's something he searched for during most of his sporting career, and he got it today,” Quintana said.
“There are many people who don't know the kind of rider he is: he wins from January to December, no matter if it's a classic, a one-week race and even podium finishes in three-week grand tours. It's already a decade since he's on top of the sport and many people don't value enough what he does, and criticised him.
“He's a superb rider and a wonderful person."
Valverde finished the stage in fourth for the day, riding across the line with a relieved Froome. The emotion of the week broke through as Valverde burst into tears having claimed an almost certain third place in the overall classification, 5min 25sec behind the leader.
“This GC podium is something I've been chasing all my life, and I finally got it today,” Valverde said. “It took so much, lots of suffering. In this moment, I remember my family, my four kids, the staff and team-mates from Movistar, everyone who supported me through my career.
“It's a wonderful taste to have finished third, since we gave all that we had. We jumped into the previous climb, also tried to leave Froome behind on previous stages. We just left everything on the road.
“I also sacrificed myself Nairo, helped him out wherever it was needed. We came for the overall title and it went away by just over a minute.”
Anacona finished the stage in eighth spot for the day. Consistant riding meant Movistar confirmed their teams' overall victory, almost one hour ahead of Team Sky.
“Hats off to Froome,” said Valverde. “He managed the race well and was stronger. Our overview is exceptional: we're jumping onto the podium as teams' classification winners and myself and Nairo will be second and third overall.
"What else you can ask for?"