PARIS (AP) — Geraint Thomas won his first Tour de France title on Sunday, concluding his transformation from a support rider into a champion of cycling’s biggest race.
The Welsh rider with Team Sky successfully defended his lead of 1 minute, 51 seconds over second-placed Tom Dumoulin in the mostly ceremonial final stage.
Thomas rode a yellow bicycle to match his yellow jersey and shared glasses of champagne with his teammates during the casual ride into Paris before buckling down to keep up with the other leaders on the cobblestones of the Champs-Elysees.
“It’s going to take a while to sink in,” Thomas said before draping the flag of Wales over his shoulders during the podium ceremony. “Normally that stage is really hard but today I just seemed to float around it. I had goose bumps going around there. The support from the Welsh, British flags. … To ride around wearing this (yellow jersey) is a dream.”
TOUR DE FRANCE: Final Standings
Four-time champion Chris Froome, Thomas’s teammate, finished third, 2:24 behind, and rode next to Thomas as they crossed the line, with Froome applauding.
Thomas was a support rider during Froome’s four victories but he emerged as Sky’s strongest rider in this race when Froome crashed early on and couldn’t keep up in the mountains.
Norwegian rider Alexander Kristoff with UAE Team Emirates won the last stage in a sprint finish, narrowly beating John Degenkolb and Arnaud Demare.
“I’ve dreamed about this victory for many years,” Kristoff said. “I’ve been close many times before but never managed to beat the faster guys like (Mark) Cavendish, (Andre) Greipel, or (Marcel) Kittel, but today they’re not here, they’re out after the mountains, and today I was the fastest, so I’m super happy.”
The mostly flat 116-kilometer (72-mile) leg began in Houilles just outside Paris and concluded with nine laps up and down the Champs-Elysees.
Many spectators along the Champs-Elysees held their arms high to record the riders on their smart phones as they went past on the cobblestones, and there were more cheers when 11 jets flew overhead leaving trails in the blue, white and red colors of the French flag.
Street vendors sold chicken, sausages, waffles, cake and sweets, while the smell of crepes filled the air.
Glenn Roberts, from Newtown in mid-Wales, was in attendance with his wife and children. The family timed its summer vacation to coincide with the Tour’s finish.
“Thomas was in the yellow when we left Wales but we didn’t know if he was going to keep it. We thought Froome was going to win it, if I’m being honest,” Roberts said. “It’s the best thing a Welshman has ever done in sport.”
French rider Sylvain Chavanel, riding his record 18th Tour, rode ahead of the pack as the first rider onto the Champs-Elysees.
World champion Peter Sagan matched Erik Zabel’s record by winning the green jersey points competition for a sixth time. French riders Julian Alaphilippe and Pierre Latour secured the polka-dot mountains jersey and best young rider white jersey, respectively.
The three-week race covered 3,351 kilometers (2,082 miles).
OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!
MORE: Details on NBC Sports Gold’s 2018-19 ‘Cycling Pass’Follow @nbcolympictalk