Geraint Thomas Wins Tour de France 2018: Why We Shouldn’t Be Surprised
Track superstar, classics hero, super-domestique, and now grand tour champion: Thomas continues his incredible career development with victory in cycling’s most famous race.
He may not have been considered among the top tier of pre-race favourites, but Thomas has impressed with his assured ride to grand tour greatness over the last three weeks. However, should this victory really have come as a surprise? There are a number of reasons why the Welshman’s yellow jersey win was perhaps not expected, but has certainly not come out of the blue.
He’s a jack of all trades.
Before we get into any other reasons for Thomas’ overall victory, it is worth highlighting the simple fact that he is a phenomenal cyclist who can excel on nearly any kind of course. Having started his career on the track, he won two world championships and two Olympic golds as part of Great Britain’s team pursuit squad before fully focusing on his road career after 2012. Since then he has put together a palmares, which shows his all-round capabilities. In the classics he has a win at E3-Harelbeke to go alongside top-10 finishes at Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders. In recent years, however, Thomas has focused more on developing as a general classification rider, working as a domestique for Chris Froome in the Tour de France whilst amassing a collection of overall wins in one-week races such as the Volta ao Algarve (twice), Paris-Nice and this year’s Criterium du Dauphine. With this year’s Tour route including everything from outrageously difficult mountain stages to teeth-chattering cobbles, it was clear that the winner would be someone who can handle himself over any terrain.
His ‘inexperience’ over three weeks has been overplayed.
With those week-long wins and having finished ten grand tours, Thomas clearly had what it takes to be competitive, and while his best GC result at a grand tour is 15th at the 2015 and 2016 Tours, it is important to remember that he has spent much of his career working for four-time Tour champion Froome, with the reality being that until he fully developed as a GC rider his opportunities to lead at grand tours would be limited. Despite his role as a helper, Thomas has shown GC potential before, sitting as high as 4th at the 2015 Tour before slipping back during stage 19, probably feeling the effects of his head-first altercation with a telegraph pole on a descent a few days earlier. Having crashed out of last year’s Tour de France and Giro d’Italia where he was Team Sky’s co-leader, maybe he just needed some luck...
Avoiding Bad Luck
Having crashed out of his previous two grand tour appearances, Thomas has had as smooth a path to glory as he could have wished for this time around, despite nearly being knocked off his bike by a spectator. This event in itself showed the fine line between good and bad luck in cycling, as Vincenzo Nibali was sent home with a fractured back after his own incident with a fan, whilst Thomas managed to stay upright. He managed to avoid the opening stage carnage that saw Froome, Adam Yates and Nairo Quintana all lose time, the kind of mechanical issue that resulted in Tom Dumoulin losing 1:17 including a time penalty, and he survived the cobbled stage which ended the hopes of cycling’s perennial recipient of bad luck, Richie Porte, and last year’s runner-up Rigoberto Uran. Riders make their own luck to an extent, but when all it takes to end a rider’s race is a fan’s camera strap in the wrong place, it helps to have luck on your side.
Taking nothing away from the individual strength that Thomas has shown over the course of the race, having a squad as strong as Sky’s super-team is certainly an advantage. Team Sky’s enviable budget has allowed them to assemble a group of riders whose strength in depth is unparalleled, equally capable of forming a formidable line of riders at the front of the race as soon as the road tilts upwards as they were during the team time trial where they finished a strong second to BMC. Michal Kwiatkowski yet again rode himself into the ground for the team, and Egan Bernal put in an incredible performance in his first grand tour which, aged just 21, shows that Sky have a real star on their hands.
For much of the race, it was apparent that the fight for the final yellow jersey would be between Thomas, Froome, and Dumoulin. Porte and Uran were predicted to provide strong challenges but crashed out and Nibali looked like he was in the mood for attacking in the mountains before his own race-ending crash. The loss of those three rivals, plus a disappointing showing from Movistar’s much hyped three-pronged attack and Romain Bardet’s rather flat tour meant that Thomas faced fewer attacks in the mountains than would have been the case if more rivals were at their best. Primoz Roglic put in a standout performance, nearly ending up on the final podium, but he was always an outside bet for the win, this year at least.
As for Froome and Dumoulin, having both raced the Giro d’Italia already this year, and with Froome winning the last three grand tours in succession, it was always expected that they would show signs of fatigue. Whilst Dumoulin has been solid throughout the Tour he hasn’t been able to attack Thomas, and although he won the Stage 20 time trial, the time he lost due to the mechanical and his inability to gain time in the mountains meant that he simply wasn’t close enough to go into the time trial with a chance of overhauling Thomas. Meanwhile Froome’s tiredness caught up with him in the final week before a revitalised time trial, losing time on Stage 17 and conceding total leadership of Team Sky to Thomas, before requiring another stunning performance from Bernal to keep him in touch with the GC contenders on Stage 19.
On the other hand, Thomas took a more traditional approach to his Tour build up, controlling fatigue and form in a way that isn’t possible for those who race the Giro. He started the spring strong with podium finishes at the Volta ao Algarve and Tirreno Adriatico, before showing great form as the Tour approached by winning both the famous Criterium du Dauphine, a classic warm-up race for the Tour de France, and the time trial at the British Championships.
A Well-Deserved Win
All of these factors helped Thomas to reach Paris in yellow and with two mountain stage wins in the bag, celebrating by far the biggest win of a career often spent working in the service of others. In contention from start to finish, many would have been surprised if they were told before the race that Thomas would be the 2018 Tour champion, but there should be no such surprise anymore. After a career that has developed him into the all-round competitor and having ridden impeccably over the last three weeks, he was simply the strongest rider in the race.