American Tejay van Garderen and Frenchman Blel Kadri closed the gap but were unable to sustain their attack and fell back.
Froome saved his legs for Sunday — which is Bastille Day, France’s national day. Judging by the thousands of people who turned out on the roadside to cheer on Saturday’s stage, the atmosphere on Ventoux promises to be electric.
Froome’s Sky teammates have clearly struggled in two stages so far — the second one in the Pyrenees on stage 9 and Friday’s flat stage — and he needs them to be at their best to repel any attacks from Contador on Ventoux.
Following Monday’s rest day, Contador will have his eye on the grueling climbs of the final week in the high Alps.
Although Wednesday’s 17th stage is strictly a time trial, it is a rolling one which suits Contador more than the time trial on stage 11 earlier this week, where he lost more than two minutes to Froome.
After that there are three straight days of tortuous climbing — including two ascents up the famed l’Alpe d’Huez pass in one day on stage 18. The next two days both feature two Hors Categorie climbs each — so tough they are considered beyond classification.
The race ends the following day with a night time finish on the Champs-Elysees.