The cyclists' cyclist: Tour de France star Thomas is the real deal

It's ten years since Geraint Thomas enjoyed the party of all parties after striking Olympic gold, painting Beijing red, white and blue - and just a little bit of green - in celebration.

After joining forces with fellow youngster Ed Clancy and experienced hands Bradley Wiggins and Paul Manning to win the team pursuit, beating Denmark in a world record time, Thomas, just 22, gabbled his words as quick as he hammered on his pedals.

“He’s about to have the night of his life,” said Wiggins, who was never in doubt about what the future held for Thomas. “I don’t think we will see him for a few days!”

A decade on, in Paris, expect the champagne corks to pop in a celebration to match.

Thomas is the cyclists' cyclist - evidenced by comments from fellow competitors after his third place on the penultimate stage time trial secured him a one minute, 51 seconds advantage over nearest Tour de France rival Tom Dumoulin.

Sunday’s 21st stage will now follow a predictable script, a processional parade with Thomas and team-mates photographed sipping a flute of fizz, shortly after the roll-out from Houilles. It surely won’t be the last glass either.

The 32-year old Welshman will take in the sights and soak in the adulation, staying in the safety of the peloton, protected by his Team Sky team-mates, and allowing the sprinters to risk it all in a dizzying dash around Paris’s postcard landmarks and a full pelt down the Champs-Elysées.

Thomas keeps defying expectations and labels, this Tour de France win, the sixth British triumph in seven years by three different riders, may have surprised some but never those who know him and this sport best.

He is, according to Wiggins, ‘the best thing to come out of Wales since Tom Jones’ sideburns’.

Team Sky chief Sir Dave Brailsford, who has known Thomas since he billeted him with other members of British Cycling’s academy in a terraced house in Manchester, once called him the ‘rider who can do everything’.

And now he has.

Ever since he started with Maindy Flyers Cycling Club aged ten it was clear big things beckoned for the school mate of British and Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton and Real Madrid star Gareth Bale.

Thomas was first a track rider, part of the British team pursuit squad that won rainbow jerseys in 2007 and 2008 before going on to his first Olympic success, a medal he’d defend at London 2012 alongside Clancy, Steven Burke and Peter Kennaugh.

Road racing was something he did to sharpen him up for the challenges of the velodrome, finishing 140th of 141 in his Tour de France debut 11 years ago.

But he graduated from stagiaire, or trainee, to domestique - the rider who toils for the benefit of their team or leader, never pushing for glory themselves.

And nowhere was this more evident than in 2013 when, after crashing heavily on the opening stage and breaking his pelvis, he rode on, supporting Chris Froome to take overall victory in Paris.

Every morning he was lifted onto his bike, describing each pedal stroke as ‘being jabbed with a burning branch’. Stopping was silly, he later said, to underline the point that professional cyclists are cut from a very different cloth to mere mortals.

It was thought he’d become a specialist in the early season cobbled classics, after his win in the prestigious E3 Harelbeke in 2015.

But his all-around abilities were clear when he beat some of the world’s best climbers to win the queen stage of the Paris–Nice race just a few weeks later.

Like with any cycling career there have been spills to match the thrills in equal measure. He was still a teenager when he needed to have his spleen removed after a heavy fall left him with internal bleeding. Since then, bones have been broken and fractured with regularity.

And then there was the Olympic road race in Rio, when he crashed when seemingly well-placed for a medal challenge in the final six miles. He was back on the bike within seconds but finished two minutes back in 11th. Several days later, he admitted he was still too upset to look at the results.

Thomas has seen at the closest of quarters the dedication, focus and sacrifice you need to win the world’s greatest bike race.

Wiggins, who chased him around a car park of a Welsh hotel on their first meeting, provided the trailblazing inspiration but it’s the last five years in support of four-time Tour de France winner Froome, that have brought him to this moment.

The respect is mutual, their friendship is real and now their jerseys - well, they match too.

Sportsbeat 2018