Tour de France 2018: Geraint Thomas all but seals his triumph as Tom Dumoulin wins stage 20 time trial

Geraint Thomas finished the final competitive stage of the Tour de France third behind Tom Dumoulin and Chris Froome to clinch the maillot jaune

Lawrence Ostlere
Espelette
Saturday 28 July 2018 17:06
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Team Sky's Geraint Thomas set to win Tour De France

When earlier this week Geraint Thomas said that he wanted to win this stage 20 time trial, the reporter holding the microphone laughed – sure, but really, how much time are you going to lose? Thomas smiled but he wasn’t joking, and here in Espelette he pushed both Chris Froome and the world time trial champion Tom Dumoulin far closer than many thought he could, finishing third to all but seal his brilliant Tour de France triumph.

There is still Sunday’s stage 21, a flat 116km from Houilles to the Champs-Elysées, but tradition dictates that the final day is neutralised between the main contenders, more parade than peloton, where the winner sips champagne and crosses the line arm in arm with his team-mates. For years Thomas has been one of the support acts in the photo, serving Chris Froome or Bradley Wiggins, but this time he will be the one wearing the famous maillot jaune.

“I can’t believe it,” an emotional Thomas said at the finish. “I’m welling up. I don’t know what to say. It is just overwhelming. I didn’t think about it all race and suddenly I won the Tour. I felt really good on the stage, actually, really strong. I was pushing a bit hard on the corners so Nico Portal told me to relax and make sure I won the Tour. I felt I could beat the guys here, but to do it over three weeks is insane. The last time I cried was when I got married – I don’t know what has happened to me.”

Froome’s Tour ended on a high, finishing second on the stage to regain his place on the podium from Lotto NL-Jumbo’s Primoz Roglic. He will reflect on a year of trials and tribulations on and off the bike and wonder whether it was the stress of his Salbutamol case, or the energy expended winning the Giro d’Italia, or simply ageing legs which left him short of joining a legendary band of riders to have won five Tours. Thomas will be pleased to see his team-mate by his side on the rostrum, but a part of him might have hoped for Froome’s absence and thus a little less hostility in Paris.

Geraint Thomas on the time trial to Espelette

At the start of the day the Welshman must have considered that he might never get another opportunity like this one. At 32 Thomas is in his prime, yet as the days have passed it has become apparent Team Sky have already found Froome’s long-term successor, the brilliant young Colombian Egan Bernal who has played a major role in their control through the Alps and the Pyrénées. Bernal will lead the team in Tours to come, but this was Thomas’s moment in the sun.

Or, in fact, the rain. The relentless heat finally gave way to drizzle in the French Basque country, making his task that little bit more complicated. His aim was to finish within two minutes and five seconds of the Dutchman Dumoulin, his nearest rival and the favourite to win on the winding, undulating road from Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle to Espelette, and he did more than enough.

They went out in reverse order, with Mitchelton-Scott’s Australian Michael Hepburn setting the early pace, clocking 42 min 15 sec. The Dane Soren Kragh Anderson was the first to break 42 minutes before Thomas’s Sky team-mate Michal Kwiatkowski beat him by a second. Then came the big hitters: Froome set a pace which Roglic couldn’t match, the Slovenian failing to find the kind of strength he showed a day earlier to win stage 19 in Laruns, while Dumoulin upped his speed in the final sector to pip Froome and lead.

Finally on to the start ramp came the familiar figure of Geraint Thomas. Jersey, helmet, shoes – everything was florescent yellow in a worryingly brazen tempt of fate. Beneath the goggles he seemed a little nervous, glancing at the road ahead of him and puffing out a long breath, and soon into the ride his heart must have leapt when his back wheel momentarily slipped from under him on a tight right bend and he just managed to keep control.

But that was his only wobble. He crushed the first 13km, beating Froome’s lead mark by 14 seconds, and although he didn’t win the stage it was another example of what a consummate all-round rider he has become. He heads to Paris where a hard-earned yellow jersey awaits, the culmination of a perfectly executed grand tour.

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