Chris Froome put in a stunning performance in the penultimate stage of the Giro d'Italia and is now on track to become the first Briton to win the Maglia Rosa - and match the achievements of cycling greats Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault.
Froome, who was all but written off after crashes in the early stages, saw off a late surge by defending champion Tom Dumoulin on Saturday's 20th stage to increase his lead to 46 seconds.
Barring a late calamity during Sunday’s final stage in Rome, the Team Sky rider will celebrate victory and add the one Grand Tour missing from his collection.
“It’s not finished yet but the battle is over,” Froome said. “It’s an incredible feeling, because two days ago I was in fourth place.”
He became the first British winner of the Vuelta a Espana last year and the third man to complete the Tour de France-Vuelta double in the same year.
Victory on the Giro will see the 33-year-old emulate Merckx and Hinault, the only riders to have won three Grand Tours in succession.
Froome arrived at the Giro with big hopes but had not really been a threat after crashing in training before the opening time trial, losing time in a split on stage four, and injuring himself again in a second crash four days later. But he started to climb back up the standings by winning Stage 14 up Monte Zoncolan, one of the toughest climbs in Europe.
“I had some very, very tough moments so to come back and win yesterday and defend the jersey today is very, very special,” Froome said. “This was the biggest battle of my career.”
Despite his feats, Froome is under investigation by world cycling's governing body UCI over an adverse doping test result after a urine sample showed excessive levels of an asthma medication at last year's Vuelta. He has denied any wrongdoing.
“I know inside that I didn’t do anything wrong,” Froome said.
Froome began the day 40 seconds ahead of Dumoulin after Friday's heroics and maintained a healthy pace throughout before switching gears towards the end as the Dutchman mounted a late charge.
"I thought that there obviously were attacks that I had to follow in the final there.'' Foome said. ''But I felt very much in control and very capable of following today. I think everyone had such a hard day yesterday. I think no one really had the extra legs to go anywhere."
Spaniard Mikel Nieve celebrated his 34th birthday in style by winning the stage - a 214-kilometre ride from Susa to Cervinia.
Sunday’s concluding stage is a flat 115-kilometre leg of 10 laps around a circuit through the centre of Rome. Without any hills, it’s highly unlikely that the overall standings will change.