The toast of the Tour on today's twelfth stage was former British champion Geraint Thomas (Team Sky).
He made the day's main breakaway and led the Tour for most of the Col du Tourmalet, despite two crashes on the upper part of the Hourquette d'Ancizan descent 40 kilometres earlier. At one point, he was the virtual yellow jersey.
Thomas's efforts were rewarded with the Prix de la Combativite, the daily prize given to the most aggressive rider.
"I was a little surprised, but I knew I was going well, climbing a lot better than I had been in the past," he told Cycling Weekly after the finish. "The plan was just to get in the break and see how long we could stay away, yet I never really expected to be climbing the Tourmalet at the front."
Tingles on the Tourmalet
Joined by Jeremy Roy (Francaise des Jeux) up the Hors-category climb, the 25 year old made his way through the mist, narrowly being pipped for the prestigious - and lucrative, it pays 5,000 Euros - Souvenir Jacques Goddet by his companion.
"I got goosebumps. It was amazing, the atmosphere and the crowds were phenomenal again, there were so many Welsh and British fans. It was a proper buzz to be up front."
Their lead slowly pegged back, Thomas and Roy were swept up by eventual stage winner Samuel Sanchez and Jelle Vanendert eight kilometres from the finish at Luz Ardiden, but there were no regrets.
"Unfortunately we didn't have quite enough advantage at the bottom [of the Tourmalet], but we gave it a good bash," he said.
He limited his losses well to the contenders too, finishing 36th at 5-20.
Two crashes in two minutes
It could all have been very different though. Thomas crashed twice in the space of two minutes as he started the narrow descent of the Hourquette d'Ancizan.
"The first one, there was something on the road: both tyres slipped, I locked up a bit." He held it up well and had a relatively soft landing - considering that it looked like sheer drop a little further beyond. "I did think 'oh s**t! what's going to happen?'" he laughed.
"It wasn't too bad, but the second one, I had some mud on the tyres and I couldn't slow down quick enough and ended up going straight on."
Today's performance compounds Thomas's ox-strong showing at this year's Tour de France. Whether in the uphill finishes, flatter sprints or the TTT, he has been visible at the head of the race day in, day out. He wore the white jersey of best young rider for the opening five days too.
"I love that first week's Classics style of racing," he said. "I just want to keep improving on the climbs. We'll see how I progress."
So what's changed compared to recent years? "I'm just a bit lighter, working on the climbs a bit more," he said. "I've been training with Brad [Wiggins] a bit, we went to Tenerife together. It's more experience and slowly progressing too."
Thomas still fancies a stage win, but conceded "like you say, twelve days at the front: I think I'll have one bad day, but I'll cross the bridge when I come to it."
As for those nerve-wracking crashes. Any injuries to report? "No, no, no - just my ego," he joked.
Related linksSamuel Sanchez wins at Luz Ardiden as Frank Schleck gains
Tour de France 2011: Cycling Weekly's coverage index
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