Geraint Thomas paid tribute to team-mate Chris Froome as he savoured victory in the Tour de France in Paris.
Thomas became the third Briton to win the Tour following Sir Bradley Wiggins and Froome, with the trio having won six of the last seven editions between them, all in Sky colours.
But Thomas came to this race not as one of the favourites to win, nor as the leader of his own team, with Sky putting their focus on Froome until it became clear the Welshman was the man in form.
Tales of acrimonious leadership battles in cycling are legion – not least involving Wiggins and Froome – but Thomas never seemed to have an issue with the four-time Tour winner. “Big respect to Froomey,” he said in his victory speech on the Champs-Elysees. “It could have got awkward, there could have been tensions, but mate you were a great champion.”
The pair had crossed the line arm-in-arm at the end of the 116km final stage from Houilles, confirming Thomas’ final margin of victory at one minute 51 seconds over Tom Dumoulin, with Froome a further 33 seconds back in third.
Before Alexander Kristoff took the stage victory in the final sprint on the Champs-Elysees, Thomas enjoyed all the usual traditions of the last day of the Tour, clinking champagne glasses with his team-mates and posing for pictures. The 32-year-old is a two-time Olympic champion on the track, but as he stood on the podium on the Champs-Elysees he recalled memories of watching the Tour as a youngster.
“I got into cycling because of this race,” he said. “I remember running home from school to be a part of it, and now I am here stood in the yellow jersey. It’s insane.”
At the end of a disjointed speech, during which the overwhelmed Thomas struggled to remember the names of his team-mates and almost forgot to thank his wife, Thomas finished with a mic drop. “Kids, you will have knocks and downs but believe anything is possible,” he said. “With hard work it can come off. Thank you very much and vive le Tour.”
Thomas has worn the yellow jersey since victory in La Rosiere on stage 11 and effectively wrapped up the win on Saturday’s time trial, but was still trying to take it all in. “Maybe when I’m like 70 sat in a corner of a pub telling some 18-year-old what I used to be it will sink in,” he said. “It’s incredible, the stuff of dreams.”
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,” he said. “It wasn’t like I had to work for him as a domestique. Obviously the guys were riding for Froomey and I just stayed with them. I was the back-up leader and if I was good, I was good and I would stay in front.”
In a race that saw several contenders lose time to mishaps, Thomas stayed out of trouble and was able to stamp his authority on the race more and more as it went on, while Froome had been put on the back foot from the opening stage when a late excursion into a field cost him 51 seconds.
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. He got to savour the rewards yesterday – and he has plans for plenty more of the same.
“I’m going to have a big party for a couple of weeks,” he said. “Maybe even a month.”