Geraint Thomas savoured victory in the Tour de France with a glass of champagne on the road in to Paris on Sunday.
Before Alexander Kristoff took victory in the final sprint on the Champs-Elysees, Thomas lined up with his Sky team-mates and posed for pictures while carrying the Welsh flag on the 116km stage from Houilles. Thomas crossed the line alongside Chris Froome to confirm his final margin of victory at one minute 51 seconds over Team Sunweb’s Tom Dumoulin, with Froome a further 33 seconds back in third place.
The third Briton to win the Tour did not start the race as either a favourite or the leader of his own team. Though he had led Froome by more than a minute and a half after his victory on stage 12 to Alpe d’Huez, Thomas revealed he was only fully handed the leadership of the team after the four-time winner faltered on stage 17 to fall even further back just days before Paris. “The real defining moment was when he had his bad day (on stage 17), but at the same time I was always allowed my own freedom,” the Welshman said.
Although Thomas was a protected rider in the team, Sky continued to insist Froome was their leader and Thomas himself was still making the point even after his victory on Alpe d’Huez in the middle week put him one minute 39 seconds clear of his team-mate.
Froome never recovered from that opening-day tumble, but Thomas said he was always waiting for the Alps to settle the leadership question. “I guess it (helped),” he said of Froome’s time loss. “But he was still looking to win the race. It was all about seeing how the Alps went and letting the road decide. As it turned out, after the Alps we were still both in a really good position.
The 51 seconds were useful, but Thomas found other ways to pick up time on Froome and everybody else throughout the race. In total he picked up 33 bonus seconds, 20 of them from his two stage wins, with the rest coming through bonus sprints or lower placings. “The two and the one (bonus seconds) in the first week were there, so why not take them?” he said. “When it came to the last mountain-top finish in the Pyrenees, when Froomey was dropped, it was just about stamping my authority on it. “I just kept picking them up when I could, and just racing.”
In a relatively relaxed speech – what else would you expect from the most relaxed man around? – the new Tour de France champion thanks his team-mates, thanks his rivals, almost forgets to thanks his wife and wins a few new fans in France . . .
“I’ve not got a good track record with speeches so I’ll keep it short. I just want to say thanks to the team, they’ve just been incredible for the whole three weeks. Big respect to [Chris] Froomey, obviously it could have got awkward, there could have been tension, but you’ve been a great champion and I’ll always have respect for you. I’m pretty tired. Just the whole team was incredible, the staff as well. I got into cycling because of this race. I rememeber running home from school to watch it. The dream was always just to be a part of it. Now I’m here in the yellow jersey it’s just insane. It’s a dream come true. Massive respect to Tom [Dumoulin] as well and all my rivals. It’s just a dream. I just want to say a final thanks to the crowd. You’ve just been amazing. The amount of support I’ve got. Oh, and my wife. Kids, just dream big. If people tel you it can’t be done, keep going and believe in yourself. With hard work, everything pays off in the end. Thanks, you’ve been amazing. Thankyou very much and vive le Tour! ”