With the top contenders watching each other like hawks and generally remaining close together, young Briton Adam Yates took a rare opportunity to streak clear and steal a few seconds on the seventh stage.
But his progress was halted in stunning fashion as the inflatable archway indicating the final kilometre collapsed on him. A fan had accidentally dislodged a pin and the arch came crashing down, knocking Yates off his bike and leaving him with a bloody chin.
Arguably the eighth stage was the one which set the tone for what was to follow as Froome demonstrated a never-before-seen dexterity. The renowned time-trialler and climber proved just as agile on a breakneck descent to the finish of the stage in Bagneres-de-Luchon.
He attacked over the top of the final climb and while Nairo Quintana, his expected main rival, hesitated, Froome adopted an awkward, crouched position while pedalling furiously to snatch 23 seconds from his challengers, winning the stage and the yellow jersey.
TAMING THE WIND
Froome consolidated not only his lead in the race but his growing reputation as the complete rider as he broke away alongside world champion Peter Sagan in the final 12km of the 11th stage.
“All day my team-mates protected me, right to the end of the stage. When I saw Sagan go away I thought, ‘I have to follow him and maybe together we can get there’,” said Froome. He predictably lost the sprint finish to Sagan but his mastery of the perilous crosswinds allowed him to snare another 12 more seconds.
The image which will ensure this Tour lingers long in the memory is that of the yellow-shirted Froome running, bike-less, to the finish line on the iconic Mont Ventoux.
Pandemonium reigned in the final kilometre of the 12th stage as encroaching fans blocked the road to the finish, forcing a photographer’s motorbike to stop short.
Richie Porte crashed into the back of it, with Froome and Bauke Mollema following suit. His bike was broken but not his champion’s spirit. He simply set off on foot until a replacement bike could be proffered.
A rare moment of drama for Froome, potentially more penalising than his fall on Ventoux. Froome hit the deck again, this time on a slippery descent as rain fell on the 19th stage. But again he didn’t panic, and Thomas came to his aid, handing over his bicycle for Froome to ride the final 25km to the finish, bloodied and bruised.
He lost a handful of seconds to fellow rivals but actually gained time on Mollema, thus again, despite adversity, extending his lead.
Froome, who was also champion in 2013 and last year, finished ahead of Frenchman Romain Bardet in second and Nairo Quintana of Colombia in third.
For Greipel, who pipped world champion Peter Sagan on the line with Alexander Kristoff third, it was a second successive victory on the final stage and 11th stage win in total.
Froome crossed the line, as he has done before, arm-in-arm with his Sky team-mates stretched out across the road, clad in a special kit in which their usual blue stripe was replaced by a yellow one.
Such was the ease of this, Froome’s most dominant victory yet, that he could even afford to trundle home, losing time to his nearest challengers, safe in the knowledge he had started the day with more than four minutes to play with.
In a typically frantic sprint finish, Greipel timed his charge to perfection.
He took Kristoff’s wheel and darted out at the right time to save his Tour.
Having won four stages last year, he had yet to taste victory this time until Sunday as Mark Cavendish, who quit the race to focus on the Olympics earlier this week, dominated the sprints, winning four stages.
Sagan, typically finished fastest but he left his push a fraction too late and failed to add to his three stage wins this year — his best return at the Tour.
Yet he still won the sprinters’ green points jersey, for the fifth year in a row, at a canter.
Surrounded by four team-mates as he crossed the line in Morzine at the end of the 146.5km Alpine stage from Megeve, Froome could afford himself a smile of satisfaction despite the treacherous conditions.
Romain Bardet snatched back six seconds in a sprint to the line but remained 4min 05sec back in second with Nairo Quintana third at 4:21.
But with only Sunday’s virtual procession into Paris to come, the Tour is all but over.
The conditions made the roads slippery and dangerous and after a raft a crashes on Friday, it served to almost neutralise the race amongst the top 10 riders and few were prepared to take a risk.
The only two to attack out of the group of favourites were Bauke Mollema and Joaquim Rodriguez, but they were merely squabbling over 10th place with Roman Kreuziger, who started the day 12th, up the road in a breakaway — their quibbles were of no concern to Froome’s yellow jersey aspirations.
The rest rode as if happy to hold onto what they had, rather than risk losing everything in the drab conditions in a quest to snatch a place or two in the standings.
Quintana — who was second to Froome in his previous two successes in 2013 and last year — had admitted as much before the stage, claiming he was contented with his lot having suffered with illness the last few days.
“A third place or another podium in the Tour in these conditions is a joy for me and I’m very happy,” said the 26-year-old Colombian who many expected to dethrone Froome this year.
Slovakia’s Peter Sagan won the green points jersey for a fifth straight year and Rafal Majka of Poland claimed the polkadot king of the mountains jersey for the second time in three years.