Froome still ‘the leader’ as triumphant Thomas pulls on yellow
Thomas responds to Froome sitting in second
RBA/AFP Photos: Bettini
Geraint Thomas insists he will help Sky teammate Chris Froome claim a record-equaling fifth victory on the Tour de France despite underlining his own credentials by pulling on the fabled yellow jersey on Wednesday. A day after seeing his chances of taking the race lead dented by Sky’s team tactics, Thomas underlined his Grand Tour credentials with a superb ride on the final climb of stage 11 that saw him overtake Spanish rival and friend Mikel Nieve (Mitchelton) inside the closing meters on his way to triumph at the line.
It was the Welshman’s second stage win on the Tour, after his victory in the opening time trial last year which saw him wear the leader’s yellow jersey for four days before crashing out on stage nine. But while it left Thomas in a “dream” like state, it did little to settle the ongoing debate about whether Froome or Thomas is the leader for a Sky team that has won five of the last editions of the world’s biggest bike race.
Froome is fresh from winning the Giro d’Italia and, having won the 2017 Tour of Spain and France, is targeting a fourth consecutive Grand Tour triumph and the first Giro d’Italia-Tour de France double since the 1998 feat of the late Marco Pantani of Italy. Thomas, a former track rider, is a proven stage race winner who has never earned a podium place on a three-week Grand Tour.
“Obviously Froomey is the leader. He’s won six Grand Tours and for me, it’s an unknown,” said Thomas. “Froomey knows how to win a three-week race. Froomey’s still the leader.”
“For me, whatever happens now, it’s been a successful Tour. It’s just an amazing feeling to win the stage and take the jersey.”
After seeing his yellow jersey dream go up in smoke Tuesday, when Sky refused to help overhaul Thomas’s 43-second deficit to overnight leader Greg Van Avermaet, the Welshman made amends in style.
– Froome second overall –
It took until the final 6 kilometers of the fourth and final climb, over 17.6 kilometers, for the drama to unfold. And when Thomas was given a chance, he seized his chance. “It was more of an opportunity, more instinct from myself,” said Thomas. An impromptu attack by Thomas prompted climbing specialist Romain Bardet to counter, which in turn prompted Froome, sitting in his wake, to counter the Frenchman. For a moment, an internal leadership battle appeared to be looming. But Thomas claimed Froome’s move “was more about trying to distance the other guys.”
Racing alongside Dutchman Tom Dumoulin in pursuit of Nieve, Thomas attacked the Sunweb team leader in the closing kilometer to overtake Nieve a few hundreds meters from the finish. Froome finished 20 seconds later alongside Dumoulin to move up to second overall at 1:25 behind Thomas, with Dumoulin now third at 1:44.
“It was perfect, we didn’t even have to talk and it was the right thing for ‘G’ to do to push on there,” Froome said of Thomas in comments to Eurosport. “I let the wheel go because I knew the onus would be on the rest of the
guys to chase.”
With Thomas in yellow and Froome second overall, Dumoulin is now their most likely rival. Sky are now “in an amazing position”, added Froome. Thomas said: “Obviously I’d love to stay up on the podium for as long as possible, but the main thing is winning.”
“Froomey’s still our best chance. There’s still half the race to go.”