Always have a fall-back position in Le Grand Shindig.
That statement in itself is not quite accurate as there was a distinct possibility that Plan A, four-time Tour de France winner Chris Froome, would be banned for his over-usage of the asthma medication salbutamol. Eventual winner Geraint Thomas was plan A in that scenario.
Indeed, A.S.O, the organization that runs the Tour, tried to bar Froome from starting their race only to have the UCI and WADA suddenly absolve the Team Sky captain of any guilt.
Yet all the while, as the Froome legal saga played out over months and months, Geraint Thomas kept his head down, stuck to his training and ignored all the noise.
From the beginning, Thomas made it clear in the media that he considered himself a co-leader at the Tour, that he’d had assurances from team manager David Brailsford that he would be free to ride his own race.
How this would actually play out on the road was anyone’s guess, regardless of verbal assurances. Froome, if cleared to ride, would be going for a record-trying and legend-making fifth Tour title. A man with relentless ambition, it was hard to imagine Froome letting anyone get in his way.
That is what makes the victory by Thomas all the more impressive. He seemed to ride in his own bubble, immune to the exponential stress and pressure of having Froome on his wheel, waiting for a weakness. Yet this was not Lemond versus Hinault or Contador versus Armstrong. Like Froome or not, he showed tremendous class in playing the supportive teammate once the race came out of the Alps and up into the Pyrenees.
The unexpected irony of this year’s Tour was that on the long list of Froome rivals, the one that finally ended his reign of three consecutive victories would be someone within his own team. It wasn’t the three-headed monster from Movistar with Nairo Quintana, Mikel Landa and Alejandro Valverde. It wasn’t 2014 Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) who came in well-trained and rested after skipping the Giro d’Italia. It wasn’t the star-crossed Richie Porte (BMC) who crashed out of the race on the same day and stage as last year. Nor was it Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) who managed an impressive second place despite also reaching the podium in the Giro in May.
No, the surprise was that the rider who crushed Froome’s hopes was a friend and loyal domestique from his own squad. Of all adversaries, the Froome giant killer was a Welshman wearing a Sky jersey.
A former-track rider, Thomas had never finished higher than 15th overall in the Tour de France. He’d had a few dramatic crashes in France over the years and often fell prey to that jour sans that would drop him down the GC.
Yet in the 2018 Tour de France there would be no bad days, tactical mistakes or psychological cracks for Thomas. From stage one, where Froome lost 51 seconds to Thomas, to stage 17 on the Col du Portet, where Froome lost another 21 seconds to his teammate, there was never a doubt who was the strongest.
The rider nicknamed G had gone from plan B to plan A.