French national air display squad Patrouille de France fly over the peloton as the final stage comes to a close. Photograph: Marco Bertorello/ AFP/ Getty Images
Thomas had prepared for his first grand tour by getting his weight down to 67.6 kg- 10 st 9lb- the lightest in his career , no entail feat at 6ft 1in tall. He also had three high-altitude camps in Tenerife, each of two weeks, and had practised Saturday’s time-trial course in advance in the expectation that it might be crucial.
Luck also played its part. Froome and Tom Dumoulin, who were riding on heavy legs after the Giro D’Italia, lost hour after early crashes. Richie Porte, another contender, had to abandon after violating his shoulder.
Yet there was a crucial change in mind-set from
Team Sky, too. In the past Thomas would have been forced to drop back to help Froome when the four-time Tour winner crashed on the first stage, losing 51 seconds. Not this time.” I was allowed my liberty ,” the Welshman 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 .”
Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas rides into Paris on final day- video
And how. Team Sky’s plan had been to see how the Alps stages went and let the road decide. Yet even when Thomas led by 1min 39 sec with a few weeks remaining, they maintained faith with Froome- mindful of the Welshman’s reputation for crashing and having mad days. Instead it was Froome who cracked in the Pyrenees, whispering to his team that he was ” not feeling super” on the Col du Portet and inspiring a rapid changing of the guard.
Not everyone, however, find it that way. L’Equipe on Sunday had a front page picture of Thomas and Froome embracing with the stark headline
Le R egne Sans Fin , or” The reign without end “. The verdict inside was hardly more enthusiastic.” The victory of Thomas will not reconcile the Sky sceptics, any more than asking Donald Trump to get on board with theories of climate change ,” it warned.
As for whether Thomas’s performance could be believed, it sat resolutely on the fence.” There are those who don’t understand how Thomas has waited to be 32 to crush everyone in the mountains. But there are others who point to a career path in several levels- Olympic titles, a passage on the road which assured him win Paris-Nice and the Dauphine- and begin to believe in his quality in grand tours .”
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Le Monde, meanwhile, lamented Team Sky’s six “boring” victories in seven years and said it was due to its financial power and appliance of the numbers. “Cycling has become mathematics,” the paper wrote.” And Sky are the strongest in maths. It’s terrible .”
There will be some who rejects this as sour grapes. Perhaps part of it is. But it would also be narrow-minded of British fans to whitewash the long and legitimate criticisms of Team Sky.
After all it was only in March that the digital, culture, media and sport select committee accused Sky of being “unethical” in the utilization of the TUEs.
Geraint Thomas: Tour de France support has outdone negativity- video
There are also unanswered questions over testosterone delivered to the Manchester velodrome which British
Cycling and Team Sky shared, while a Team Sky doctor is still facing a general medical council investigation. It is scarcely a good look either when Lance Armstrong’s former US Postal soigneur is still in charge of Team Sky’s service course in Belgium.
Yet it is hard not to warm to Thomas, who has remained droll and engaging even when the pressure has been greatest during this Tour. Given the current climate, it possibly also helps that he does not have asthma, has never had a TUE and, when he broke his hip at the 2013 Tour, he insisted on nothing stronger than ibuprofen.
Back in 2008 when his Barloworld team-mate Moises Duenas was busted for EPO, he also spoke out against doping in the strongest possible terms.” If someone is fraudulent in a business, wouldn’t they currently facing a prison term ?” he said.” I don’t see how riders taking drugs to win races and lying to their squads is any different. Bang them up and throw out the key .” Those terms are encouraging, especially in a sport like cycling which- devoted its past- remains permanently on parole.
Meanwhile Team Sky’s performance director, Rod Ellingworth, reckons that, even at 32, Thomas has plenty more in the tank.” He truly does have the full package and he’s matured in the past two years and taken it on ,” he said, smiling.” And he’s still pretty ambitious, too .”
Stage 21 (
Houilles to Paris, 115 km ): 1 A Kristoff
( Nor) Emirates 2hr 46 min 36 sec;
2 J Degenkolb
( Ger) Trek-Segafredo same day;
3 A Demare
( Fr) Groupama-FDJ s/ t;
4 E Boasson Hagen
( Nor) Dimension Data s/ t;
5 C Laporte
( Fr) Cofidis s/ t;
6 M Richeze
( Arg) Quick-Step s/ t;
7 S Colbrelli
( It) Bahrain-Merida s/ t;
8 P Sagan
( Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe s/ t;
9 A Pasqualon
( It) Wanty s/ t;
10 J De Buyst
( Bel) Lotto-Soudal s/ t.
Final overall stands: 1 G Thomas ( GB) Sky 83 hr 17 min 13 sec; 2 T Dumoulin ( Neth) Sunweb +1 min 51 sec; 3 C Froome ( GB) Sky +2 min 24 sec; 4 P Roglic ( Svn) Lotto-Jumbo +3 min2 2sec; 5 S Kruijswijk ( Neth) Lotto-Jumbo +6 min 8sec; 6 R Bardet ( Fr) AG2R La Mondiale +6 min 57 sec; 7 M Landa ( Sp) Movistar +7 min 37 sec; 8 D Martin ( Ire) Emirates +9 min 5sec; 9 I Zakarin ( Rus) Katusha +12 min 37 sec; 10 N Quintana ( Col) Movistar +14 min 18 sec.
Points classification: 1 P Sagan ( Svk) Bora-Hansgrohe 477 pts; 2 A Kristoff ( Nor) Emirates 246; 3 A Demare ( Fr) Gropama-FDJ 203; 4 J Degenkolb ( Ger) Trek-Segafredo 178; 5 J Alaphilippe ( Fr) Quick-Step 143.
King of the mountains: 1 J Alaphilippe ( Fr) Quick-Step 170 pts; 2 W Barguil ( Fr) Fortuneo-Samsic 91; 3 R Majka ( Pol) Bora-Hansgrohe 76; 4 G Thomas ( GB) Sky 74; 5 T Dumoulin ( Neth) Sunweb 63.
Best young rider: 1 P Latour ( Fr) AG2R 83 hr 39 min 26 sec; 2 E Bernal ( Col) Sky +5 min 39 sec; 3 G Martin ( Fr) Wanty +22 min 5sec; 4 D Gaudu ( Fr) Groupama-FDJ +1 h 7min 48 sec; 5 D Martinez ( Col) EF-Drapac +1 hr 16 min 25 sec.
Team standings: 1 Movistar ( Sp) 250 hr 24 min 53 sec; 2 Bahrain-Merida ( Brn) +12 min 33 sec; 3 Sky ( GB) +31 min 14 sec; 4 LottoNL-Jumbo ( Neth) +47 min 24 sec; 5 Astana ( Kaz) +1 hr 15 min 32 sec.