ESPELETTE, France (Reuters) - Geraint Thomas barely had to attack to all but secure his maiden Tour de France title on Saturday, taking full advantage of Team Sky’s strength in depth and acknowledging that his imminent victory was the result of collective work.
The 32-year-old Welshman held on to the yellow jersey after Saturday’s decisive time trial, a 31-km effort in the Basque country, to lead Dutchman Tom Dumoulin by 1:51 and team mate and defending champion Chris Froome by 2:34.
Barring a crash in Sunday’s procession to the Champs Elysees in Paris, Thomas will become the third Briton to win the Tour after Bradley Wiggins (2012) and Froome (2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017) – both Team Sky riders.
“It has been a great race — if we look at all our individual riders they are amazing,” Thomas, who won two mountain stages including one up the iconic Alpe d’Huez climb, told a news conference.
Team Sky began the race not only with Thomas and four-time champion Froome, but also 21-year-old Colombian Egan Bernal, who thwarted most of their rivals’ attacks in the mountains, former world champion Michal Kwiatkowski and former Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner Wout Poels.
The team’s dominance in recent years and Froome’s positive test for excessive levels of the asthma drug Salbutamol (before subsequently being cleared of any wrong-doing) fueled the crowds’ anger.
But it brought the team together.
“There is always going to be haters or whatever, but we work hard. Our biggest strength is not just in the legs but in the head and how we ride together,” said Thomas, who had warmed up for the race by winning the week-long Criterium du Dauphine last month.
Thomas’s contract with Sky finishes at the end of the year and the British outfit could find themselves with two grand tour leaders if the new champion-elect extends his contract.
“I just want to enjoy this, man. I don’t know (about my contract),” said Thomas.
“We’ll see. I’m not thinking about this at the moment. I just want to enjoy it with the boys.”
There was a late scare for Thomas in the time trial, when he appeared to lose control of his bike. He rode cautiously after that to take third place behind Dumoulin and Froome but the title is now virtually in the bag.
“(Sports director) Nico(Portal) said take it easy in the corners. Every corner seemed to be at 180 degrees,” he said.
“So you just block this out and do what you’ve got to do.”
Reporting by Julien Pretot,; Editing by Neville Dalton