GERAINT THOMAS savoured victory in the Tour de France with a glass of champagne on the road in to Paris yesterday.
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.
“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.
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.”
Thomas got to savour the rewards on Sunday – 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.”
For his part, Froome says he is looking forward to going home for a rest, with his wife Michelle due to give birth any day now, a second child for the former winner.
But when he told reporters in Laruns that he was ready for this race to be over, it was easy to think of other reasons the four-time Tour winner might have had enough.
“I have a little baby girl on the way in the next few days,” Froome said after a day of struggles in the Pyrenees. “Hopefully I make it home in time for that.
“This is now the fourth Grand Tour that I’ve raced consecutively and I’m looking forward to a bit of rest.”
Froome was looking to win a record-equalling fifth Tour title, to complete a rare Giro-Tour double, and to win a fourth straight Grand Tour, but it wasn’t to be.