RBA/AFP Photos Bettini
Geraint Thomas became the first yellow jersey wearer since disgraced Lance Armstrong to triumph on the legendary Alpe d’Huez after a thrilling finale to a punishing Tour de France 12th stage on Thursday. But the Welshman, along with teammate Chris Froome, was met by a chorus of boos and jeers at the finish as Team Sky’s domination of the race continued. Thomas took the lead of the race on Wednesday with an impressive victory atop La Rosiere on what was the second day in the Alps. In a thrilling finale to the 175.5 kilometer race from Bourg Saint Maurice, the former track rider beat Dutchman Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) by two seconds in a sprint to the line, with French climbing specialist Romain Bardet (AG2R) in third.
“Not even in my wildest dreams did I believe I would win at Alpe d’Huez, in the yellow jersey,” said Thomas, who now leads four-time champion Froome by 1 minute 39 seconds in the overall standings. Dumoulin, the 2017 Giro d’Italia champion, is third at 1:50. “It’s just mental. I just can’t believe I won the stage. It was just a case of following (teammate) Egan (Bernal),” added Thomas.
However their hopes of soaking up their success were dashed when fans booed the Team Sky riders as they crossed the finished line. Earlier, Froome narrowly avoided disaster when he was struck by a fan at the roadside. Italian rival Vincenzo Nibali also crashed due to a collision with a fan but finished the stage. Team Sky’s brutal domination of the race is not sitting well with some fans, but Thomas added: “People have their opinions, and that’s fine. “As long as they don’t affect the race that’s the main thing.”
After claiming the top two positions in the overall Wednesday, Team Sky’s rivals were intent on redressing the balance on the third and final day in the Alps. And for a long while, it looked like Thomas’s lead was in danger when Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk launched an audacious attack after he had squeezed into an early breakaway. Kruijswijk’s bid was ultimately futile, and he said: “It’s painful. This was one of the stages that was high on my list. “I didn’t plan to go in the breakaway, but once I did, I just had to go for it.”
“It’s a big disappointment for me, but I’ll keep on fighting.” The Lotto Jumbo rider, the highest-placed of the breakaway riders in sixth overall at 2:40 behind Thomas, became the virtual race leader on the long descent of the Col de la Madeleine. But Team Sky took over the chasing duties on the descent of the Col de la Croix de Fer, and by the time Kruijswijk began racing through the valley to the foot of the Alpe d’Huez, his lead had been cut to just over four minutes.
Spanish veteran Alejandro Valverde’s slim hopes of fighting for a podium place ended when he was spat out the back. And after Quintana lost 47sec on the day, the Colombian said: “I gave it everything. Now, it’s crucial we recover and see what we can do in the next mountain stages.”
As expected, the Sky train ripped into Kruijswijk’s lead. Only young Colombian Egan Bernal, on his race debut, was left to pace Thomas and Froome on their pursuit of the Dutchman after the opening kilometers of the 13.8 kilometer climb to the summit. But the pace was furious. Spanish veteran Alejandro Valverde’s slim hopes of fighting for a podium place ended when he was spat out the back.
With 7 kilometers remaining for Kruijswijk, his lead had been halved, to two minutes. But spice was added to Sky’s chase of the Dutchman when Movistar’s Mikel Landa attacked their group, taking Bardet along for the ride. Bardet, a two-time podium finisher in the 2016 and 2017, then flew off on his own in pursuit of Kruijswijk.
With just under 4 kilometers to go, a Froome attack was countered by Italy’s former champion Vincenzo Nibali, who came crashing to the ground after a collision. A series of attacks and counters inside the final two kilometers proved indecisive. But when Thomas negotiated the final bend with tactical perfection, it gave the Welshman the extra meters required to forge ahead and claim the win.
The last Tour de France race leader to triumph on the Alpe was Armstrong, who was wearing the yellow jersey when he won a time trial in 2004. The American’s stage win, like all his results, were later scrapped from the history books after he was found guilty of doping throughout his career.
Final Stage Results
1. Geraint Thomas (GBR/SKY) 5hr 18min 37sec
(average speed: 33.1 km/h)
2. Tom Dumoulin (NED/SUN) at 2.
3. Romain Bardet (FRA/ALM) 3.
4. Christopher Froome (GBR/SKY) 4.
5. Mikel Landa (ESP/MOV) 7.
6. Primoz Roglic (SLO/LNL) 13.
7. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA/BAH) 13.
8. Jakob Diemer Fuglsang (DEN/AST) 42.
9. Nairo Quintana (COL/MOV) 47.
10. Steven Kruijswijk (NED/LNL) 53.
11. Egan Bernal (COL/SKY) 1:41.
12. Daniel Martin (IRL/EAU) 1:45.
13. Bob Jungels (LUX/QST) 3:09.
14. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/MOV) 4:29.
15. Ilnur Zakarin (RUS/KAT) 4:29.
16. Pierre-Roger Latour (FRA/ALM) 4:35.
17. Jon Izagirre (ESP/BAH) 4:37.
18. Guillaume Martin (FRA/WGG) 4:40.
19. Tanel Kangert (EST/AST) 5:41.
20. David Gaudu (FRA/FDJ) 6:52.
21. Robert Gesink (NED/LNL) 8:24.
22. Simon Geschke (GER/SUN) 8:58.
23. Daniel Navarro (ESP/COF) 9:33.
24. Mikel Nieve (ESP/MIT) 9:57.
25. Pierre Rolland (FRA/EFD) 10:59.
26. Warren Barguil (FRA/FST) 10:59.
27. Rafal Majka (POL/BOR) 15:09.
28. Laurens ten Dam (NED/SUN) 15:39.
29. Oliver Naesen (BEL/ALM) 22:21.
30. Maxime Bouet (FRA/FST) 22:21.
31. Arthur Vichot (FRA/FDJ) 22:21.
32. Rudy Molard (FRA/FDJ) 22:21.
33. Michael Schär (SUI/BMC) 22:21.
34. Nicolas Edet (FRA/COF) 22:21.
35. Pavel Kochetkov (RUS/KAT) 22:21.
36. Michael Andersen (DEN/AST) 22:21.
37. Tejay Van Garderen (USA/BMC) 22:21.
Final Overall Standings
1. Geraint Thomas (GBR/Sky) 49hrs 24min 43sec.
2. Christopher Froome (GBR/SKY) at 1min 39sec.
3. Tom Dumoulin (NED/SUN) 1:50.
4. Vincenzo Nibali (ITA/BAH) 2:37.
5. Primoz Roglic (SLO/LNL) 2:46.
6. Romain Bardet (FRA/ALM) 3:07.
7. Mikel Landa (ESP/MOV) 3:13.
8. Steven Kruijswijk (NED/LNL) 3:43.
9. Nairo Quintana (COL/MOV) 4:13.
10. Daniel Martin (IRL/EAU) 5:11.
11. Jakob Diemer Fuglsang (DEN/AST) 5:45.
12. Alejandro Valverde (ESP/MOV) 9:07.
13. Bob Jungels (LUX/QST) 9:09.
14. Ilnur Zakarin (RUS/KAT) 9:37.
15. Mikel Nieve (ESP/MIT) 15:28.
16. Pierre-Roger Latour (FRA/ALM) 16:31.
17. Guillaume Martin (FRA/WGG) 18:39.
18. Tanel Kangert (EST/AST) 20:41.
19. Egan Bernal (COL/SKY) 21:12.
20. Warren Barguil (FRA/FST) 23:55.
21. Rafal Majka (POL/BOR) 28:38.
22. Adam Yates (GBR/MIT) 34:55.
23. Bauke Mollema (NED/TRE) 36:16.
24. Serge Pauwels (BEL/DDT) 36:35.
25. Jon Izagirre (ESP/BAH) 36:48.
26. Damiano Caruso (ITA/BMC) 37:16.
27. Domenico Pozzovivo (ITA/BAH) 39:48.
28. Greg Van Avermaet (BEL/BMC) 44:46.
29. Simon Geschke (GER/SUN) 46:23.
30. Pierre Rolland (FRA/EFD) 48:17.
31. Robert Gesink (NED/LNL) 51:12.
32. David Gaudu (FRA/FDJ) 51:38.
33. Tejay Van Garderen (USA/BMC) 52:03