Sporting history was made on the Champs-Elysees Sunday as Geraint Thomas became the first Welshman to win cycling’s Tour de France.
Arm-in-arm with 2017 champion and Team Sky teammate Chris Froome, the 32-year-old Thomas crossed the finishing line after the 21st and final stage in Paris in triumph.
His eventual victory had been a mere formality after Saturday’s individual time trial stage which left him with a one minute 51 second advantage over second-placed Tom Dumoulin of the Netherlands.
Four-time champion Froome completed the podium, having started the three-week Tour as race favorite.
Sunday’s stage, which started in the Paris suburbs before eight high-speed laps of a circuit taking in iconic landmarks in the French capital, was won by Alexander Kristoff of Norway, the European champion.
But the spotlight was firmly on Thomas, so long in the shadows of teammates past and present, Bradley Wiggins, the first British winner of the famous race in 2012, then Froome.
His victory continued Team Sky’s domination of the Tour de France, with its British riders claiming six of the last seven editions, much to the disquiet of the French sporting public, who have given Thomas, Froome and their teammates a mixed reception over the course of the three-week race.
Thomas, a two-time Olympic champion for Great Britain in track cycling before turning his full attention to the road, took it all in his stride and after dominating the mountain stages in the Alps with two superb victories, maintained his advantage in the Pyrenees and on the final time trial to hold off his closest rivals for the prized crown in cycling.
“It’s unbelievable, it’s going to take a while to sink in,” Thomas told Eurosport.
“Riding around wearing this (the yellow jersey) is the stuff of dreams.”
Thomas also paid tribute to his teammates, who had held strong in the face of a sometimes hostile environment.
“We have stuck together through tough times, I owe them a lot,” he added.
With Froome, bidding for a fourth straight Grand Tour win after claiming the Giro d’Italia, losing time following a crash early in the race, Thomas seized his chance to take the lead after Stage 11 and never relinquished his advantage.
Froome’s challenge finally petered out in the Pyrenees and he was happy to play a support role as Thomas claimed his victory.
Team Sky principal Dave Brailsford was particularly pleased for Thomas, a rider he had known since his junior days.
“We’re just pretty emotional,” he told Sky Sports News. “I think this has been the most emotional of all our victories.
Thomas is assured of a hero’s welcome back home in Wales, now being feted like Real Madrid football star Gareth Bale, who went to the same high school in Cardiff.
Slovakia’s Peter Sagan was unable to round off another fine Tour with a sprint victory, but sealed his record-equaling sixth Green Jersey, while French honor was upheld by Julian Alaphilippe, who won two stages to clinch the Polka Dot jersey for King of the Mountains.