Toughest Tour de France yet leads to Chris Froome's greatest triumph

Chris Froome warned this year's Tour de France would be his toughest yet, and as he prepares to celebrate victory in Paris he has been proven right.

But while his final margin of victory of 54 seconds will be his smallest yet, this is the tour that underlines his complete dominance over the current peloton.

After Sunday's traditional parade to the finish on the Champs-Elysees, Froome can celebrate his fourth Tour title -- third in a row -- leaving him one shy of the record jointly held by four all-time cycling greats -- Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Jacques Anquetil and Miguel Indurain.

"Tactically, he has raced brilliantly," said Sky team principal Sir Dave Brailsford. "He looks assured on every terrain. Coming into this race, he knew it would be the toughest for him to win, and it has proved to be the case if we go by the time gaps. I think it's probably his best win."

Tours are usually decided by minutes, not seconds, but going into the time trial on Saturday, Froome had never trailed by more than 12 seconds and never led by more than 27.

Compare that to 2013 and 2016, when his final margin of victory was over four minutes on each occasion.

Such a close race has called for an entirely different approach from Froome.

"He's used his experience an awful lot," Brailsford said. "I think you've seen a really calm, knowledgeable guy who's got so many miles in the yellow jersey now. That's all come in to play in this Tour.

This might not have been the Froome of old, striking out on mountain top finishes to bury his rivals but this Tour required a different approach, and it was not without a hugely impressive climbing display from him.

On stage 15, a broken spoke threatened to derail his race, but after a quick wheel change, courtesy of Michal Kwiatkowski, Froome paced his way back to the pack on the steep inclines of the Col de Peyra Taillade and saved his jersey.

"If I didn't get back in I wouldn't expect to have been in yellow anymore," Froome said. "I had to get back by the top of that climb or it was game over for me."

There were plenty of other moments when Froome might have panicked. He crashed on stage two, had to dodge a stray parasol on stage six, and went off the road on stage eight.

The biggest crisis came on stage 12 to Peyragudes, where he looked beaten at the foot of the steep airstrip and lost the yellow jersey to Fabio Aru.

"I don't think he or we really saw that coming," Brailsford said. "But he wasn't worried and didn't panic."

Froome would need only 48 hours to regain yellow as Aru surprisingly struggled on the short, steep climb into Rodez.

Attacks were expected from Romain Bardet and Rigoberto Uran in the Alps but neither could distance Froome.

Perhaps if Richie Porte had not crashed out on the Mont du Chat, or Nairo Quintana did not have the wear and tear of the Giro d'Italia in his legs, it might have been different, but Froome's job is simply to beat those who turn up.