Geraint Thomas wins Tour de France as Alexander Kristoff triumphs in Champs-Elysees sprint
Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas became the first Welshman to win the Tour de France after successfully negotiating the final stage to Paris, won on the Champs-Elysees by the Norwegian Alexander Kristoff.
A murky overcast day in Paris turned into a golden yellow evening for 32-year-old Thomas, who secured his maiden Tour win and the sixth triumph for Team Sky in seven years after a near-flawless performance over three weeks and 21 stages.
While being crowned the eleventh oldest first-time winner of the Grande Boucle, Thomas became the third rider from Team Sky to win the world's biggest bike race following Bradley Wiggins’ success in 2012 and Chris Froome’s four victories since. Thomas, however, is the first British winner to have been born in the British Isles.
Thomas punched the air in celebration before crossing the finish line arm-in-arm with Froome and alongside young team-mate Egan Bernal – two riders at varying points of their careers who both proved instrumental in the 32-year-old’s success over three tough weeks in France.
Froome, the four-time champion, joined Thomas on the final podium in third place – the two Sky riders separated by the towering figure of Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) after the Dutchman followed up his runner-up spot behind Froome in May’s Giro d’Italia with another second place behind Thomas in France.
Success on the race’s twenty-first and final stage in Paris went to the European champion Kristoff of UAE Team Emirates who beat sprint rivals John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) and Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) by half a bike on the cobbled Champs-Elysees in Paris.
It was Kristoff’s first Tour stage win since 2014 and came after the 31-year-old had finished in the top five in Paris on four previous occasions without tasting success.
Edvald Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) and Christophe Laporte (Cofidis) completed the top five of an exciting bunch sprint while world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) could only manage eighth place.
With earlier three stage wins, Slovakian showman Sagan secured a record-equalling green jersey with a record tally of points. In only his second Tour, Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe won a stage in both the Alps and the Pyrenees en route to securing the polka dot jersey.
Another Frenchman – Pierre Latour of Ag2R-La Mondiale – won the white jersey youth classification, Ireland’s Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates) was voted the most combative rider of the race, and the Spanish Movistar team won the team classification despite their top riders Mikel Landa and Nairo Quintana only able to finish seventh and tenth in the overall standings.
Thomas: a worthy champion
Standing atop the podium in Paris flanked by Dumoulin and Froome, Thomas praised his entire Sky team and staff, paid tribute to the support of his wife Sara, and also thanked the people of France for their support – despite the often unsavoury ambiance that greeted Sky and their dominating performances over the past weeks and years.
“I’ve not got a good track record with speeches so I’ll keep it short,” said Thomas, draped in a Welsh flag and set against the Arc de Triomphe on the horizon.
" I got in to cycling because of this race. I ran home from school to watch it. It was always a dream to be a part of it and that came true back in 2007 – and now I’m here in the yellow jersey. It’s insane, it’s incredible, it’s a dream come true."
Thomas said he had “massive respect for Tom [Dumoulin] and all my rivals” having singled out team-mate Froome for special praise after his fellow Briton came up short in his ambitious big to win a fourth consecutive Grand Tour, the elusive Giro-Tour double, and a record-equalling fifth Tour crown.
“[I have] big respect for Froomey. Obviously, it could have gone awkward, there could have been tension. But you were a great champion and I always have respect for you. Thanks a lot.”
Froome, 33, was widely expected to join Belgian Eddy Merckx, Spaniard Miguel Indurain and Frenchmen Jacques Anquetil and Bernard Hinault with five wins – but struggled with the repeated attacks from his rivals in the Pyrenees and often relied on support from Bernal, the youngest rider in the race, to limit his losses.
The Kenyan-born Briton nevertheless managed to cement a place on the podium thanks to a strong ride in Saturday’s final time trial. In so doing, Froome secured a sixth consecutive podium finish in a Grand Tour – and his eleventh in total.
Geraint Thomas, Tom Dumoulin and Chris Froome on the podiumGetty Images
Thomas: how he won cycling's biggest prize
Thomas achieved his maiden Tour victory with measured panache – climbing to successive mountain-top stage wins in the Alps and riding the entire Tour without conceding any time to his main rival Dumoulin, except for a mere 14 seconds in the final time trial once the overall win was already secured.
Borne out of years of suffering and self-sacrifice – firstly for Wiggins and then for Froome – Thomas’ win was also a product of circumstances and good luck: the on-going doubt surrounding Froome’s participation elevated the Welshman to protected status at Sky before the race – a race during which he managed to avoid the kind of crashes and mechanical mishaps that usually plague him during three-week stage races.
The same could not be said for rivals Richie Porte and Vincenzo Nibali – the former after crashing out ahead of the cobbles in Stage 9 and the latter after breaking a bone in his back following a fall on Alpe d'Huez.
Thomas won the Tour off the back of winning the Criterium du Dauphine – the traditional warm-up race ahead of the Tour. Having avoided any mishap in a tough opening phase of the race – including the cobbles of northern France, the 32-year-old took control of the race by becoming the first Briton to win on the mythical 21 hairpins of Alpe d’Huez in Stage 11.
His victory on Alpe d’Huez secured Thomas a second career yellow jersey – one year after he donned the fabled maillot jaune for the first time. Thomas proved his peak condition by winning one day later at La Rosiere before weathering all attacks made against him during three challenging stages in the Pyrenees.
“It’s unbelievable,” Thomas said shortly after crossing the finish line in Paris. “It’s going to take a while to sink in. Normally that stage is really hard but today I seemed to just flow around. There were goose bumps going around there with all the British flags. It’s unreal, it’s the Tour de France, the stuff of dreams.”
Back on the podium, Thomas told the children watching that they should “dream big”.
" If people tell you it can’t be done but you believe in yourself, work hard, keep going, you’re going to have knocks, you’re going to have downs, but if you keep believing, anything is possible. With hard work everything pays off in the end."
And with a final “Vive le Tour” and an Obama-esque microphone drop, that was that.
Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome celebrateGetty Images
Kristoff takes the final spoils
With the champagne and processions on the outskirts of Paris over and with 55km of the 2018 Tour de France remaining, the racing finally got started with eight city-centre laps in Paris.
Six riders – Silvan Dillier (Ag2R-La Mondiale), Taylor Phinney (EF Education First), Michael Schär (BMC), Damien Gaudin (Direct Energie), Nils Politt (Katusha-Alpecin) and Guillaume van Keirsbulck (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) – managed to break free to establish a maximum lead of 45 seconds on the Champs-Elysees.
Germany’s Politt was the last man standing – caught with one lap remaining – before Belgian national champion Yves Lampaert (Quick-Step Floors) and Italy’s Daniel Oss (Bora-Hansgrohe) zipped clear on a speculative dig with 3km remaining.
Lampaert held on until the Place de le Concorde before being swept up with 500m remaining by the Trek-Segafredo train of Germany’s Degenkolb, bubbling with confidence after his victory over the cobbles in Stage 9 at Roubaix.
But in the absence of Mark Cavendish, Andre Greipel, Marcel Kittel, Fernando Gaviria and other top-tier sprinters, it was forgotten man Kristoff who ended a four-year drought on the Tour with a win on the most prestigious of all locations – the 31-year-old launching early and never looking back to secure his third career stage win on the Tour.
“It’s a dream coming true,” Kristoff said. “I’ve dreamed about this victory for years. I’ve come close before but I didn’t manage to beat guys like Griepel, Kittel and Cavendish, so I’m really happy.”
" I was a bit far back after the tunnel but I was with [Roberto] Ferrari and then with Trek, who did a very good lead-out and I managed to get on John’s [Degenkolb] wheel. That meant I could start at a really good spot and I could get past John. It was still far out but I saw nobody and I managed to hold on. I knew with about 20 metres out and I’m just so happy. "
Further back, Thomas crossed the line alongside Froome and Bernal, his arms aloft. In his maiden Tour, 21-year-old Bernal – the youngest rider on the race – finished an impressive 15th on GC. To many, the Colombian is the future of Team Sky.
If Thomas is very much the present, does that make Froome the past? Only time will tell. For now, they will all savour another historic win – a sixth in seven years for Sky in what French newspaper L'Equipe dubbed not without bitterness on Sunday "The Eternal Reign".