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Tour de France: 'Geraint Thomas has tamed a race in which he appeared cursed'

[img]https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/onesport/cps/480/cpsprodpb/E208/production/_102746875_thomas_epa.jpg" srcset="https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/onesport/cps/240/cpsprodpb/E208/production/_102746875_thomas_epa.jpg 240w, https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/onesport/cps/320/cpsprodpb/E208/production/_102746875_thomas_epa.jpg 320w, https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/onesport/cps/480/cpsprodpb/E208/production/_102746875_thomas_epa.jpg 480w, https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/onesport/cps/624/cpsprodpb/E208/production/_102746875_thomas_epa.jpg 624w, https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/onesport/cps/800/cpsprodpb/E208/production/_102746875_thomas_epa.jpg 800w" sizes="(min-width: 900px) 50vw, (min-width: 600px) 70vw, 100vw" alt="Geraint Thomas in yellow jersey" class="">
Geraint Thomas was racing in his ninth Tour de FranceThere was a time when Geraint Thomas appeared to be blessed with talent but cursed by the rider it made him.A man described by Sir Dave Brailsford as the rider who could do everything, a racer who seemed destined instead to ride for others, who kept crashing when openings came.Down on the final descent of the Olympic road race in 2016, down twice at the Tour de France in 2017, down when in wonderful form at the Giro d'Italia the same year. Your chances in elite sport come fast and slip away faster.
Now that curse is gone, blown away over the past three weeks in relentless and spectacular fashion. In its place, a certain giddiness, a happy disbelief, a triumph bigger than any of those disappointments combined.Thomas watched his old Great Britain team-mate Bradley Wiggins win the 2012 Tour de France. He has helped Chris Froome to the podium in Paris three times, once having ridden for 20 days with a fractured pelvis. He has stood aside so Froome could chase other Grand Tours that Thomas might otherwise have won.At 32, an age when riders start looking over their shoulder at younger, fresher talents, Thomas' reward has come.And when he stood on the Champs-Elysees on Sunday evening, blinking at the hundreds of photographers and thousands of fellow Welshmen who had travelled to witness the coronation, his happiness was shared far beyond.
Thomas wins Tour de France
Listen: BeSpoke at the Tour - Glory for Geraint
The making of Thomas - a rise from humble beginnings
Some sporting heroes seem to have landed from another world. Thomas inhabits the same one as all of us. His first bike as a kid was a cheap mountain bike called The Wolf. On the handlebars he had a small box that made big noises - police sirens, ambulances, fire engines. He rode it to the park with his little brother and dad to play football and rugby.When he was given his first pair of cycling shorts, he had no idea you weren't supposed to wear pants under them.When he went out for his first long ride, from his home in the Cardiff suburbs to the Storey Arms outdoor centre in Brecon, he got lost on the way back and was so tired on his eventual return that he had to press the doorbell with his forehead.When his mum realised this cycling thing wasn't going away, she used to fuel her son the night before rides with barbecue spare ribs and egg-fried rice from the local Chinese takeaway, and with jam sandwiches wrapped in foil for the adventure itself.
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Geraint Thomas on the verge of becoming the first Welshman to win the Tour de France
As the rides got longer and the successes began to come, winning Olympic gold in Beijing 2008 as part of the GB team pursuit quartet, the boy grew up but stayed the same.He shared a house with Mark Cavendish and Ed Clancy near the National Cycling Centre in Manchester and was berated by Cavendish for not washing up to sufficiently exacting standards.He rode the same roads as all the amateurs and weekenders in the north-west - the Cat and Fiddle climb out of Macclesfield, the Brickworks out of Pott Shrigley, Winnats Pass, Holme Moss.The Tour de France was both real and impossible. When Thomas rode it for the first time, as a chunky 21-year-old in the colours of the struggling Barloworld team, he found the pace of it baffling. Sent back to the team car mid-stage to fetch water bottles for his team-mates, he could only get back to the peloton by lobbing all the bottles away.
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Thomas was 140th out of 141 finishers on his Tour debut in 2007On climbs he would be dropped instantly. On flat stages he would be dropped all the same. Sometimes his bike computer would auto-pause, assuming he had stopped because he was ascending the big mountains so slowly. All the time the same thought was rattling round his exhausted mind: how can you come to a race like this and actually try to win it[/img]
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Geraint Thomas won two stages in this year's Tour de FranceThomas would not have won this race without Sky. Sky would not have won three other Tours without Thomas. You invest and you work and you accept the dividend that comes your way.There are multiple subplots across the three weeks and 3,300km of a Tour. Some flare brightly before dying away like meteors across the night sky: the early sprint-stage wins of Fernando Gaviria and Dylan Groenewegen, the redemption of John Degenkolb on the cobbles of Roubaix. Some light up the darkness for longer. Thomas' successes, first in the breathless summit finish on La Rosiere, then the unforgettable win up the iconic hairpins of Alpe d'Huez, have burned his name into the firmament.The extraordinary could not have happened to a more down-to-earth man. The Tour has not always been blessed nor enhanced by its victors. There are asterisks where some winners once were and questions over others.Thomas may never win another Grand Tour. But he will remain the inadvertent anti-Lance: always amiable, usually praising others first, never cocky, consistently self-deprecating.He will probably struggle for some time to accept that he has finally won his sport's greatest prize. The Tour in turn should feel grateful that the kid who started on Caerphilly Mountain, who first fell in love with cycling on the Rhigos - a climb that starts by a south Wales industrial estate and rises past an old colliery - who respects this race's traditions and who learned how to tame it, has now claimed its greatest prize as his own.
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