The Tour de France by its very nature is not easy. Over the course of three weeks this year's riders will have covered 3,351 kilometres including 26 mountain climbs at high altitude. After coming through Saturday's individual time trial unscathed, Geraint Thomas is now just 116 kilometres of a processional stage 21 away from becoming the first Welshman and the third Brit to win Le Tour. What is most remarkable however about the 32-year-old double Olympic champion’s success, is how nerveless he has made it look. In his ninth Tour – only Dutch great Joop Zoetemelk competed in more before winning the whole thing for the first time – Thomas has gone from super domestique to overall contender to surefire winner without ever looking in danger. That in itself is exceptional. To win Le Tour is incredible, to do so while never once showing a sign of weakness is something else entirely. The final time trial on Saturday was the first time in the race that he lost any ground on his closest general classification rivals, with runner-up Tom Dumoulin taking the stage and Chris Froome second but in truth Thomas was never under threat.
Thomas’ tour got off to the perfect start with a 14th-placed finish on the sprint stage in the Vendée that opened La Grande Boucle, taking time off potential general classification rivals Nairo Quintana and Richie Porte, not to mention teammate and four-time champion Froome. The following day he showed his opportunism by sprinting for a bonus second on an intermediate sprint, irrelevant in the final shake-up but an indication of his ambition. The team time trial on stage three was always going to be crucial, and with Team Sky finishing second to BMC, Thomas was able to take seven seconds off Dumoulin. In a largely quiet first week, Thomas had managed to take every opportunity to gain time, and his ninth place at the desperately difficult finish at the Mur de Bretagne, where he also swept up two more bonus seconds and took advantage of a Dumoulin mechanical to open up a sizeable lead over the Dutchman, was further proof of that.
With top ten finishes at both the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix in the past, Thomas was always likely to be comfortable on the cobbles on stage nine, and so it proved as he came through with the bunch of favourites.
Nine stages down, so far so good, but the question remained, could he survive the high mountains? Over one week there was more than enough proof that he could. Over three, Thomas still had some doubters to prove wrong.
The trio of Alpine stages certainly did that. After a comfortable ride to Le Grand Bornand where all the favourites came home together, he showed that he was not only a capable climber, but perhaps the most at home in the mountains of all the contenders on his way to victory in La Rosière, taking 20 seconds off Dumoulin and Froome as he moved into the yellow jersey for the first time. Stage 12 was even more impressive, becoming the first Brit to tame the Alpe d’Huez and the first person ever to win on cycling’s most famous hairpin climb while wearing the yellow jersey.
By this point the question had to be asked whether Thomas or his teammate and defending champion Froome should be leading Team Sky.
As the second week drew to a close with another well-negotiated stage into Mende, with its devilish final climb and rapid descent, Thomas looked every inch the Grand Tour champion.
Week three and the Pyrenees would be decisive, with Thomas comfortable on the first of a trio of tough days before finishing third on the 65km super short stage to the Col de Portet, taking more time off Dumoulin, as well as settling the debate over Team Sky’s leadership with Froome dropping a further 48 seconds. That left stage 19 and the mythical Tourmalet as the last chance for the climbers to put him under pressure, but while Thomas was isolated at one point, he was always in control. Primoz Roglic took the stage, and moved temporarily onto the podium but with another sprint and six more bonus seconds, Thomas stretched his advantage past two minutes and effectively wrapped up his historic success with two stages still to race. After crashing out of last year’s Tour, Thomas knew he could take no chances on the final time trial, and that caution may have been the only impediment to a third stage victory.
But that will matter little in Paris today as Thomas sips on champagne and toasts his place alongside Sir Bradley Wiggins, Froome and all the greats as a Tour de France champion.