*Chris Froome finishes third
Geraint Thomas yesterday became Britain’s third winner of the Tour de France when he crossed the finish line in Paris.
The Team Sky rider, 32, follows Sir Bradley Wiggins in 2012 and four-time Tour champion Chris Froome as Britain celebrates a sixth win in seven years.
Alexander Kristoff won the final sprint finish on the Champs-Elysees as Thomas crossed the line arm-in-arm with Froome after three weeks of racing.
He beat Dutchman Tom Dumoulin by one minute 51 seconds, with Froome third.
The Welshman, who rode in support of Froome in each of his four wins, had built up that lead over the previous 20 stages and Tour convention dictates that the yellow jersey is not challenged on the final stage.
“When I rode on the Champs-Elysees for the first time in 2007, that was insane – just to finish the race and just to be a part of it,” Thomas told ITV.
“To now be riding round winning it is just incredible. It’s just a whirlwind. I seem to be floating around on cloud nine.
“Maybe when I’m 70, sat in a corner of a pub telling some 18-year-old what I used to be, it will sink in. It’s incredible, the stuff of dreams.”
Froome was heavy favourite to become the fifth rider to win a record-equalling fifth Tour de France title. He came into the race as defending champion and holder of all three Grand Tour titles, having won the Vuelta a Espana last September and the Giro d’Italia in May.
However, he was only cleared to race the week before the Tour started, after his anti-doping case was dropped by cycling’s world governing body, the UCI.
The 33-year-old was under investigation after more than the permitted level of legal asthma drug salbutamol was found in his urine during his Vuelta victory.
But his hopes of matching Eddy Merckx’s record of four consecutive Grand Tour victories were ended in the Pyrenees mountains in the final week as Thomas proved the strongest rider.
The final 116km stage began in Houilles, to the north-west of Paris, and the riders took a leisurely pace into the capital before embarking on eight laps of the city centre.
Team Sky led the peloton into Paris, having allowed France’s Sylvain Chavanel to ride clear for one lap in his final Tour in recognition of his achievement of completing a record 18th race.
Six riders built an advantage of about 45 seconds but they were eventually reeled in on the final lap, with 6km remaining.
World champion Peter Sagan’s Bora-Hansgrohe team-mates did the bulk of the chasing, hoping to help the winner of the green points classification jersey to a first win in Paris, but Norwegian Kristoff outsprinted Frenchman Arnaud Demare and Germany’s John Degenkolb.
Thomas rode over the line a few seconds later, alongside Froome, the man he dethrones as champion.
Thomas’ victory comes in his ninth Tour, one fewer than the record for most appearances before winning, held by 1980 winner Joop Zoetemelk of the Netherlands.
Thomas first rode in the Tour in 2007, when he finished 140th of the 141 finishers.
Like many British riders, he raced on both the track and the road in the early part of his career, winning two Olympic and three world team pursuit titles on the track between 2007 and 2012.
His sacrifice in helping Froome win four Tours has meant Thomas’ best finish before this year was 15th.
He has also been dogged by bad luck. He fractured his pelvis on stage one in 2013 but rode the remaining 20 stages to help Froome win; in 2015 he crashed head first into a telegraph pole; and in 2017 broke a collarbone on stage nine.
This year, he has ridden a near faultless race to cement his place among Britain’s greatest cyclists.
Mark Cavendish, a former Team Sky and Great Britain team-mate of Thomas, said he was “so, so proud” of his achievement.
Asked if he ever thought Thomas could win a Grand Tour, Cavendish, who has won 30 Tour de France stages, told BBC Sport: “Recently, yes. But there is a definite hierarchy in Team Sky so I didn’t know if he’d get the opportunity.
“If they (Team Sky) had said to Geraint ‘right, now you’ve got to work for Froome’ he’d have done it. That’s the kind of guy he is. That’s what is special about him and why he deserves the win.
“He’s the most loyal guy you’ll ever meet. He’s incredible. I love him. I’m so so proud of him.”