Geraint Thomas tightened Team Sky’s grip on the Tour de France when he handed the British outfit their sixth title in seven years on Sunday, and there is no sign that their domination will end any time soon.
Thomas produced a near flawless performance to become the third British and Team Sky rider to triumph after Bradley Wiggins (2012) and Chris Froome (2013, 2015, 2016, 2017).
Dutchman Tom Dumoulin finished second for Team Sunweb after also taking the runner-up spot in the Giro d’Italia won by Froome, who ended up third over all.
Norway’s Alexander Kristoff won Sunday’s final stage, largely a 116-km procession from Houilles to the Champs-Élysées, during which Thomas enjoyed some Champagne before heading to the finishing line in a bunch sprint.
“I got into cycling because of this race. I remember running home from school to watch the end of the Tour de France, and the dream was always just to be part of it and that came true back in 2007,” Thomas told the crowd during the victory ceremony.
“Now I’m stood here in the yellow jersey and it’s just insane. It’s incredible and it’s a dream come true.
“To be riding round [the Champs-Élysées] and winning it, you’ve got to pinch yourself. It won’t really sink in probably for a few months. Right now, it’s like a whirlwind. I seem to be floating around on cloud nine.”
FROOME PHILOSOPHICAL ABOUT DEFEAT
Froome’s failure to beat Thomas also showed how difficult it is to complete a Giro-Tour double, with Marco Pantani being the last man to achieve the feat in 1998 during the doping-tainted era.
“After he won the Giro, Chris came here to win the race, that’s for sure,” Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford said. “He did not come here to be third on the podium. But when he realized Geraint was the strongest, he did not start sulking at the back of the bus. Not at all. He said: ‘I will now ride as a teammate and I’ll do my best for Geraint and the team because of all the work you did for me over the past years.’”
Froome was subjected to abuse by some fans on the roads of France this summer after being cleared of a doping case only days before the start. He said he was repeatedly spat at and that spectators punched him and tried to make him fall off his bike.
He crashed in the opening stage — not because of fans — and lost 51 seconds, and he hit the ground again on the cobbled stage in northern France. Froome’s fate was sealed in the Pyrenees, where he was dropped by his rivals during Stage 17 to the Col du Portet, but still managed to snatch a place on the tour podium with an impressive effort in the final time trial.
“I’ve had quite a few emotions throughout this race, moments of disappointment, crashing, moments of joy when we’ve won stages and taken the yellow jersey,” said Froome, who rode the whole season under the cloud of a possible suspension. “That’s bike racing. Like any Grand Tour, this has been a roller coaster with ups and downs.”
Froome has been the dominant Grand Tour rider in recent years and started as the race’s favourite once again, only to be eclipsed by Thomas.
Despite his failure, Froome still believes a double Tour-Giro remains possible. Only seven riders have done it. This season, the Dutch rider Dumoulin finished second at both races.
“Interesting that you mentioned Tom as well, for him to be second in both Grand Tours, I think that it shows it is possible to do both of the races at a really high level, which only leads me to believe it is possible to do both of them,” Froome said.
Froome did not reveal whether he would try again for the double next year. It’s more likely he will focus on the Tour solely to match the record of five wins shared by Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain.
“I really don’t believe Chris is on a downhill trend,” Brailsford said. “It was just a blip. He went through an extremely difficult time and still won the Giro. He was obviously disappointed here, but he was dignified throughout. There is no doubt he wants to win a fifth Tour and I believe it’s possible.”
Thomas, who won two mountain stages – including one on the top of the iconic Alpe d’Huez – emerged as the strongest man in the race as he gained ground on his two rivals after taking the yellow jersey at the end of Stage 11.
Only in the final time trial did Thomas lose ground on Dumoulin and Froome, but he had already virtually wrapped up the title in the mountains.
“Thomas was the absolute strongest over the last three weeks,” Dumoulin said.
“He didn’t make any mistakes, he was never put into trouble by anyone – including me – in the mountains or in any stage.”
“The strongest rider won the Tour de France,” Froome said. “It was clear once we hit the Alps, Geraint was in better condition than I was.”
Thomas’s victory will come as a relief for Sky, especially in the wake of Froome’s popularity nosediving in France after he was cleared of a doping offence months after testing positive for excessive levels of an asthma drug.
Froome and other Team Sky riders, including Thomas, were booed by the crowd standing on the side of the road throughout the three-week race.
The four-time champion was the main target of the jeers, with one spectator even slapping his shoulder in the climb up to L’Alpe d’Huez.
While team principal Dave Brailsford hit out at the locals, saying booing and hitting the riders was ‘a French thing,’ both Froome and Thomas kept their composure.
Thomas, who was cheered during the podium ceremony, also had a message for riders aged 5-18 at the Maindy Flyers Cycling Club in Wales.
“Dream big and go for it. Don’t let anything hold you back,” he told them.
“You’re going to have ups and downs, but keep the faith and keep fighting. If you believe in something, just go for it and don’t let people put you down.
“If people don’t agree with you, just shut it out and get on with it. With hard work, everything pays off in the end,” added Thomas, whose victory was marked in his hometown with Cardiff City Hall being illuminated in yellow.
Thomas and Froome focused on bike racing over the past three weeks, making no mistakes and being well protected by the strongest team in the field.
Pundits agreed that the 21-year-old Egan Bernal, who produced some amazing work in the mountains for his leaders on his Tour debut, would probably soon win the race.
Sky’s domination left the others picking up crumbs.
Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe, a one-day classic specialist, confirmed his huge potential by winning two stages and taking the polka-dot jersey for the mountains classification.
World champion Peter Sagan ground through the last days after a heavy crash to secure a record-equalling sixth green jersey for the points classification and France’s Pierre Latour emerged as a possible podium finisher in the near future by winning the white jersey for the best under-25 rider.
It was, however, a disappointing race for France as Romain Bardet showed his limits when he ended up sixth over all after two podium finishes in 2016 and 2017.
No Frenchman has won the race since Bernard Hinault took his fifth title in 1985.