Supporting his teammates was never a problem for Geraint Thomas, but on Sunday he became the star. The 32-year-old Welshman overcame odds on the course, and by oddsmakers, to win the Tour de France.
Listed as an 18/1 pick to win the yellow jersey, the Team Sky support rider for was supposed to play an ancillary role for his team, as he’d done in the past. Instead he found himself pedaling into the Champs-Elysees, arriving in Paris a victor.
“It’s unbelievable, it’s going to take a while to sink in,” Thomas told Eurosport. “Riding around wearing [the yellow jersey] is the stuff of dreams.”
Thomas was the first cyclist from Wales to win the sport’s most coveted title by beating all others in the grueling race. He clinched his victory on Saturday when he held a nearly two-minute advantage ahead of second-place rider Tom Dumoulin of the Netherlands, who was listed at 12/1 to win.
From Understudy to Champion
It was an emotional victory for a man who is used to riding behind a champion. He tried to convey his feelings on Sunday, but at times was overcome with emotion.
“I believed I could beat the guys here, but to do it on the biggest stage of all, over three weeks, it’s insane,” Thomas said through tears. “The last time I cried was when I got married. I dunno what’s happened to me. I can’t even speak, man.”
Team Sky has won six of the last seven Tour de France races, and Thomas has been aiding the winner every time. One of eight domestiques, as they are called, his job was to allow riders such as four-time winner Chris Froome to settle in comfortably in the pack while Thomas and his teammates set a pace or jutted out to the front to fight the head wind.
It was supposed to be the same strategy this year. Froome was the 3/2 favorite to pick up his fifth yellow jersey, but a crash in Stage 1 put him 51 seconds behind the leader, and he never recovered.
That misfortune opened the door for Thomas, and unlike in previous races, where he suffered crashes and other mishaps, he was ready for his moment.
“I was allowed my freedom,” Thomas said. “It wasn’t like I had to work for him as a domestique. Obviously the guys were riding for Froomey, while I was the back-up leader. But it was clear that I wouldn’t have to sit up if I was feeling good and Froomey bad. Then as the race went on it worked itself out anyway.
Protests and Pepper Spray
The opening stage crash wasn’t the only misfortune that befell Froome. The favorite, who had been at the center of a controversy on whether he had too much of the asthma medication salbutamol in his system, was targeted by fans throughout the race. Some spit at him, one man tried to punch him, and the police even got in on the shenanigans. One officer pulled him off his bicycle after the 17th stage when he mistook him for a fan.
The day before in the 16th stage, French farmers wanted to shed light on their recent spats with the government, and did so by blocking the path with hay bales. Others removed the obstructions, but the race was halted for 15 minutes.
In an effort to disperse the protestors, French police used tear gas that got in some of the competitors eyes.
Thomas was one of those affected, and was seen washing his eyes out with water.