The Tour de France might look, to the casual observer, like the other two Grand Tours — there’s a peloton of nearly 200 riders racing around the countryside and over some high mountains chasing a brightly coloured jersey — but it isn’t.
Not one of those 200 riders is there to make up the numbers; it’s why the Tour peloton is one of the fastest of the year — everyone is at the peak of the sport. And when everyone was pinging in July, who was better than them? Geraint Thomas.
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That should be enough to make his victory the best of the year, but it also had style. Yes, Thomas’s win lacked the haymaker blow following two weeks of Muhammad Ali-style rope-a-dope that Chris Froome’s Giro-snatching Finestre attack was. Nor was it the gutsy comeback story of Simon Yates’s Vuelta win. But it was the culmination of years of trying and failing and it finally coming right.
There was no broken pelvis like in 2013; no litany of small crashes like in 2014; no dramatic barrier-leaping like in 2015; no rib injuries like 2016; no motorbike to knock him off like in the 2017 Giro; or a broken collarbone like in last year’s Tour. And there were no bad days either, no doubt helped by not having to work for Froome early in the race. This victory had been a long time coming so it felt bigger.
It had panache too — sure, he didn’t smash minutes into rivals but he didn’t have to. His two stage wins on La Rosière and most memorably Alpe d’Huez looked like the work of a poacher but they were a subtle display of strength. As he reveals in his book: “I was almost thrown by how comfortable it had been,” winning on La Rosière and then just a day later he became the first Brit to win on Alpe d’Huez with another masterclass of racing nous and strength.
He might have been victorious on the 65km stage to Col de Portet had Nairo Quintana, by then far down on GC, not been allowed to fly free of the pack.
Detractors may point to the fact that Thomas made over a minute of his eventual victory margin in the first nine stages, largely through others’ misfortune. But he then put a further 31 seconds into Tom Dumoulin and 1.25 into Froome.
Thomas was the best in the toughest race of the year. Even Froome and Yates can’t claim that.