Geraint Thomas will win his first Tour de France when the peloton reaches Paris on Sunday, after finishing third in the individual time trial on stage 20.
The Team Sky rider finished the stage with a general classification lead of one minute 51 seconds ahead of Sunweb’s Tom Dumoulin, who won the 31km race against the clock from Saint-Pee-sur-Nivelle to Espelette by one second from Chris Froome.
Thomas will now enjoy the final procession into the French capital before the sprinters fight it out for glory on the Champs-Elysees.
Froome’s superb ride propelled him back to third and onto a podium finish, having fallen behind Primoz Roglic following the final stage in the Pyrenees on Friday.
I’ve had a difficult year, said Froome. I didn’t think it was possible to get on the podium so I’m very happy about that.
With the riders out in reverse general classification order, Thomas looked on course to win the stage itself, reaching the second checkpoint well clear of Froome, but with the yellow jersey safe, he eased up to prevent any accidents and crossed the line 14 seconds behind Dumoulin’s time.
There was only one significant scare, with around 19km to go when the bike almost slipped from underneath him on a right-hand bend.
But he held it together and will now become the third British winner of the race, joining Sir Bradley Wiggins and Froome, meaning the trio have won six of the last seven editions, all in Team Sky colours.
Froome had started the Tour looking for a record-equalling fifth Tour title and seeking a rare Giro-Tour double, but he found that attempting to win a fourth consecutive Grand Tour was a step too far.
Thomas emulates Wiggins in converting himself from an Olympic team pursuit champion into the winner of the world’s biggest road race.
The 32-year-old had never before finished in the top 10 of a Grand Tour. In his only previous serious attempt to win one, he was forced to withdraw following a crash midway through last year’s Giro d’Italia.
Irishman Dan Martin shipped more than two minutes in the time trial but the UAE Team Emirates rider – named the most combative in the Tour overall – did enough to protect his top 10 place as he is set to finish eighth overall.
An emotional Thomas, who has been in yellow since stage 12 but always reluctant to discuss the possibility of winning, was embraced by his wife Sara and Team Sky principal Sir Dave Brailsford at the finish and admitted he was in shock.
I can’t believe it, he said. I’m welling up. I don’t know what to say. It is just overwhelming. I didn’t think about it all race and suddenly I won the Tour.
Speaking of Saturday’s stage, he said: I felt good, I felt strong, I felt really good actually. I heard I was up and I was maybe pushing a bit hard sometimes. Nico (sports director Nicolas Portal) told me to just relax, take it easy and just make sure I win the tour, and that’s what I sort of did.
It’s just overwhelming. I can’t speak man. It’s just incredible. I believed I could beat the guys here but to do it on the biggest stage of all over three weeks, it’s insane.
The last time I cried was when I got married and I don’t know what’s happened to me.
Stage 20 result
1 Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb 00:40:52
2 Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky +1s
3 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky +14s
4 Michal Kwiatkowski (Pol) Team Sky +50s
5 Søren Kragh Andersen (Den) Team Sunweb +51s
6 Bob Jungels (Lux) Quick-Step Floors 52s
7 Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin +1:02
8 Primoz Roglic (Slo) LottoNL-Jumbo +1:12
9 Marc Soler (Spa) Movistar Team +1:12
10 Michael Hepburn (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott +1:23
1 Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky 80:30:37
2 Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Sunweb 00:01:51
3 Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky 00:02:24
4 Primoz Roglic (Slo) LottoNL-Jumbo 00:03:22
5 Steven Kruijswijk (Ned) LottoNL-Jumbo 00:06:08
6 Romain Bardet (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale 00:06:57
7 Mikel Landa (Spa) Movistar Team 00:07:37
8 Daniel Martin (Irl) UAE Team Emirates 00:09:05
9 Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha-Alpecin 00:12:37
10 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar Team 00:14:18