Rui Costa wins Tour de France 19th stage, Froome stays in lead
Race ends on Sunday in Paris
Rui Costa won the mountainous 19th stage of the Tour de France with a solo breakaway on the final climb, while Chris Froome stayed in yellow as expected attacks never materialized on Friday.
Costa secured his second stage win of the race after catching Frenchman Pierre Roland about a quarter of the way up the fourth and final major ascent of Col de la Croix Fry.
"A lot of Portuguese fans have supported me through this Tour and I want to thank them," Costa said through a translator.
German veteran Andreas Kloeden was second, 46 seconds behind, and Belgian Jan Bakelants was 1:44 back in third.
Froome and his main Tour rival Alberto Contador were still some distance behind Portugal's Costa when he clinched his third career Tour stage win.
The 204.5-kilometre trek featured two HC climbs and two Category 1 ascents between Bourg-d'Oisans and Le Grand-Bornand in the snow-capped peaks of the Alps.
Contador was tipped to attack Froome on the long downhill finish, but perhaps because of the rainy conditions, the attack never came.
"Even though there wasn't much attacking, it was really tough out there," Froome said. "I certainly feel a big sigh of relief. Today was a day I was nervous about, happy to put it behind us."
Froome, Contador battle continues
Froome and Contador rolled over the line together, several minutes behind Costa, and Froome maintained his lead of 5:11 over the Spaniard.
"For us the objective was to stay on the wheel (of the other contenders)," Froome said. "The team did a huge amount of work today. There are still 125 kilometres to go tomorrow."
He is two days away from becoming the second British rider to win the race after Bradley Wiggins last year.
"I didn't want to attack in the downhill," Contador said. "A lot of people like me and when they see me attacking downhill they get scared."
He has only Saturday's 20th stage from Annecy to Annecy-Semnoz to claw back his large deficit to Froome, who will likely look to stay safe so that he can match Wiggins' feat on Sunday.
"It all depends on how my legs are tomorrow," Contador said. "It depends how I feel."
Colombian climber Nairo Quintana is 5:32 behind in third overall.
Froome was not attacked up the first of the two big HC climbs to Col du Glandon. They are known as HC, Hors Categorie, because they are considered so tough they are beyond classification.
Canada's Hesjedal in the mix early
For the second stage in a row, Victoria's Ryder Hesjedal went on the early attack. Hesjedal and Spaniard Jon Izaguirre opened up a lead of more than seven minutes over the yellow jersey group once they went over the top of Glandon.
As Hesjedal and Izaguirre reached the second HC of Col de Madeleine, the peloton was 10 minutes behind. Hesjedal forged ahead before being caught and overtaken by Frenchman Pierre Rolland.
The stage then undulated through the valleys and up several big hills, including the Category 1 climbs of Col de l'Epine and Col de la Croix Fry, then ended with a sharp descent to the ski resort of Le Grand Bornand in south-eastern France.
Rolland maintained his lead up l'Epine — zooming up the 7.3 kilometres in just under 19 minutes.
The main pack was still about 10 minutes back when Rolland approached the last climb. Three of Froome's Sky teammates found the going too hard, however. Peter Kennaugh, Ian Stannard and Geraint Thomas drifted off.
Costa, who won Tuesday's medium-mountain stage, charged after Rolland up Fry, a climb of about 11 kilometres.
With the rain becoming heavier, Costa reached the top and prepared for a long and slippery descent of some 13 kilometres. He also won up to Super-Besse ski station in 2011.
Hesjedal ended up finishing the stage in 136th spot, but after taking Glendon and almost winning the Madeline climb he moved from 18th to seventh overall in the climber classification.
Hesjedal remained the top Canadian in the overall classification despite falling seven spots to 69th.
David Veilleux of Quebec City was the top Canadian in Friday's stage, finishing 74th. He was 129th overall.
Svein Tuft of Langley, B.C., was 162nd in the stage and 170th overall.
Despite his two stage wins, Costa is down in 24th place and 42:16 behind Froome.
"The Tour is a very important race for me. The GC is something for the future, we will see," he said. "I am happy to have won two stages, especially as it's the centenary Tour so that makes it more special."
Meanwhile, Froome sat on Contador's wheel. The Spaniard had Saxo-Tinkoff teammates Michael Rogers and Roman Kreuziger to help him.
"There was a moment when I wanted to attack and thought about it," Contador said, "but then I thought it was best to reach the finish line with Roman."