GAP, France - Hurtling too fast for comfort down a twisty, turning foothill of the Alps, Tour de France leader Chris Froome faced a high-speed choice between risk and reward.
The Briton knew 10 years ago on the same descent, Joseba Beloki shattered his leg, elbow and wrist rounding a corner too fast and Lance Armstrong plowed into a field to avoid the Spaniard howling in pain.
So Froome wanted to go easy. Trouble was, Alberto Contador didn't. Against his better instincts, Froome chased after his Spanish rival who sped down the treacherous stretch with asphalt made gooey and slippery by the July heat.
Just like Armstrong, flirting with disaster nearly cost Froome the Tour. Contador crashed as he rounded a right-hand corner, forcing Froome to swerve off the road, onto the grass and to put a foot down to stay upright.
Unlike Contador, who bloodied his right knee, Froome escaped with just a fright. Still, the drama on Tuesday's Stage 16 proved a point that Froome and his Sky team have made time and again: Despite his big lead, Froome won't savor victory until he's on the cobbles of the Champs-Elysees in Paris on Sunday.
"One second you could be going for the finish and about to win a race and the next you're lying in a ditch somewhere, with a broken bone," Froome said.
Froome and other contenders allowed 26 riders - none of them a podium threat - to escape Tuesday. The stage winner, Portugal's Rui Costa, emerged from that group, riding away on the day's last climb, a 6-mile long ascent to Col de Manse, and then zipping down to Gap.
"I knew it was the descent where Beloki crashed so I was purposefully laying off a little bit," Froome said, "but also trying to keep touch with the Saxobank guys who were really pushing the limits."
By that, Froome meant Contador and his Saxo-Tinkoff teammate from the Czech Republic, Roman Kreuziger, who are third and fourth in the overall standings but more than four minutes off the lead.
"It was really difficult. In normal conditions I wouldn't have slipped like that, but it was very difficult terrain," said Contador, the 2007 and '09 champion. "Sometimes you have to go for it, whether it's at the start or the end of a stage."
Froome, who said Contador "was taking too many risks," will look to extend his lead in today's time trial before three Alps' stages.
• What: Stage 17, Embrun to Chorges, time trial
• When: 5 a.m.
• TV: NBCS