In past Tours de France, Geraint Thomas finished with a broken pelvis, abandoned with a broken collarbone and even slammed his head into a telephone pole and fell into a ditch.
On Sunday, he will ride onto the Champs-Élysées wearing the yellow jersey as the first Welshman to win cycling’s greatest race. And Team Sky mate Chris Froome should join him on the podium.
“I don’t know what to say. It’s just overwhelming,” Thomas said. “I didn’t think about it all race, and now, suddenly, I won the Tour, man. Wow.”
Thomas, a two-time Olympic track cycling champion, capped a standout three weeks by placing third in the 19-mile individual time trial on Saturday, the penultimate day of the three-week Grand Tour.
Tom Dumoulin, second in the overall standings, won the stage by one second over Froome and 14 seconds over Thomas. But Thomas went into the day with a two-minute lead on Dumoulin.
“Amazing last day, I was so nervous,” said Dumoulin, whose world champion skinsuit was lost before the stage. Another one was quickly made and arrived before the Dutchman started.
Froome, a four-time Tour winner, moved from fourth place back to third in the overall standings, passing former junior world champion ski jumper Primoz Roglic of Slovenia. Roglic was eighth in the time trial, 72 seconds behind Dumoulin.
“After a difficult day yesterday I did not think it was possible,” Froome said. “I’m very, very happy. Being on the podium with Geraint is a dream.”
TOUR DE FRANCE: Standings | TV Schedule | Riders to Watch
Sunday’s 21st stage is a traditionally ceremonial ride into Paris for the top riders. The top three in the overall standings should go unchanged. NBCSN coverage starts at 9:30 a.m. ET, with NBC Sports Gold streaming at 10.
Thomas, 32, earned two Olympic track cycling team pursuit gold medals and three world championships on the track between 2007 and 2012. He came into his own as a road cyclist after the London Games, becoming one of Froome’s right-hand men in the mountains at the Tour de France.
Thomas continued to improve this season, winning the weeklong Critérium du Dauphiné, one of the biggest lead-up events for the Tour de France.
Though Froome won the Giro d’Italia in May, it was Thomas who was clearly stronger in the Alps and the Pyrenees the last two weeks, winning a pair of stages.
Thomas is riding his ninth Tour. In 2013, he broke his pelvis in Stage 1 and somehow raced the next three weeks and finished 140th with teammate Froome winning his first title.
In 2015, Thomas’ head collided with a telephone pole in Stage 16. He fell into a ditch but was unhurt. Then last year, Thomas abandoned after breaking his collarbone in Stage 9.
“He is a true fighter,” said Sky principal Dave Brailsford, the man who masterminded Britain’s successes at the Olympics and Tour de France wins for Bradley Wiggins and Froome.
“When he fractured his hip five years ago, he could not even stand up his bike in the team time trial that followed. He still carried on and finished the race. It speaks volumes about his personality. Since his junior years, he has always wanted to win.”
At the finish Saturday, Thomas let out a loud scream and held his arms out wide in celebration. He embraced his wife, Sara Elen, as soon as he got off his bike.
“The last time I cried was when I got married,” Thomas said as he teared up.
“I believed I could beat the guys here, but to do it on the biggest stage of all, over three weeks, it’s insane,” he said. “Last time I cried was when I got married. Don’t know what’s happened to me.”
Now he’s at the peak of his career but out of contract with Sky at the end of the season. Thomas has yet to decide on his future with the British outfit. Brailsford is confident he will remain a Sky rider.
“He is loyal, I never had any doubts about it. When the team needed him, he was always there,” Brailsford said. “After all these years spent giving to others, he finally got rewarded.”
American rider Lawson Craddock, who broke his shoulder in the opening stage and sits last overall, also broke down into tears upon reaching the finish Saturday.
“It’s been an incredibly testing Tour de France for me,” Craddock said. “I wasn’t sure I could make it this far, and I just enjoyed crossing the finish line today. It was the final test to make it to Paris.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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