Geraint Thomas struggled to keep his emotions in check after his Tour de France victory was officially confirmed on Monday morning (AEST).
The Team Sky rider just had to complete the race-ending 116km stage from Houilles to Paris to win cycling’s biggest event for the first time, with protocol dictating there are no changes to the standings on the final day.
And the 32-year-old, the first Welshman to ever claim the Tour, had no problems in doing so, finishing on the Champs-Elysees with the peloton to claim race victory, one minute and 51 seconds ahead of Sunweb’s Tom Dumoulin.
Norwegian Alexander Kristoff won the stage in a sprint finish, as Thomas crossed the line arm-in-arm with teammate Chris Froome.
Four-time Tour winner Froome had to settle for third place, ending his reign of dominance at the event, but an emotional Thomas was very thankful to his teammate for his support during a dramatic race.
“It’s just a whirlwind. Obviously crossing the line there was massive emotion,” he said.
“Hearing the stories of what it’s like back in Wales … I’ve stayed in the bubble so I’ve no idea. It’s insane.
“It was just about doing all the small things right [today]. Then the wall came falling down … [I was] welling up every time I hugged anyone or talked about it.
“It’s incredible to be here with this jersey. It’s insane. Big thanks to ‘Froomey’ as well because he committed to me.
“I appreciate having probably the best stage race rider ever riding for me. It’s surreal. It’s going to take a while to sink in.”
Speaking to ITV, Thomas said winning the Tour at the ninth attempt was the stuff of dreams.
“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,” he said.
“To now be riding around winning it is just incredible … I seem to be floating around on cloud nine.”
Team Sky have now won the Tour on six of the past seven occasions, with British riders saluting every time.
First it was Bradley Wiggins, in 2012, before Froome won the Tour in 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017.
Froome was happy for his teammate in the aftermath after enduring a Tour from hell.
Entering the race under a doping cloud after he was found to have double the permissible amount of asthma drug salbutamol in his system during last year’s Vuelta a Espana, the Brit was targeted was by Tour fans.
Froome was punched, spat on and booed throughout the race, while a policeman even threw him off his bike after mistaking him for a fan in the aftermath of a tense stage.
Froome said the unique conditions of the race brought Team Sky closer together, before praising Thomas.
“I think when there is negativity like that it brings us as a team closer together. I definitely feel that with the riders,” said Froome, who struggled in the mountains, giving Thomas the chance to strike.
“We bonded and it felt as if we were out against the rest of the world and we were here to win the race. It’s amazing.
“G pulled through … it’s been more difficult than it was previously, and Geraint handled being in the yellow jersey extremely well.”
Team Sky dominance is ‘terrible’, French media claims
There was some criticism of Thomas and Team Sky, too.
French sports paper L’Equipe ran a front page that showed Thomas and Froome embracing with the words “the reign without end”, a nod to Sky’s recent dominance of the race.
“The victory of Thomas will not reconcile the Sky sceptics, any more than asking Donald Trump to get on board with theories of climate change,” a passage read, according to The Guardian.
And in publication Le Monde, a direct quote read: “Cycling has become mathematics. And Sky are the strongest in maths. It’s terrible.”
Not that Thomas or his teammates would care.
As the race winner said, the celebrations would last for “two weeks or perhaps even a month”.
The final stage was also notable for Peter Sagan equalling the record of green jersey victories.
Sagan finished at the top of the sprinters standings at the Tour for the sixth time, matching Erik Zabel’s feat.
Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe won the King of the Mountains competition, too, while another local, the aptly named Pierre Latour, topped the young rider standings at the race’s conclusion.
Stage 21 results
1. Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates) 2 hrs 46 mins 36 secs
2. John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo) same time
3. Arnaud Demare (Groupama-FDJ) same time
4. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Team Dimension Data) same time
5. Christophe Laporte (Cofidis) same time
6. Maximiliano Richeze (Quick-Step Floors) same time
7. Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) same time
8. Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) same time
9. Andrea Pasqualon (Wanty-Groupe Gobert) same time
10. Jasper de Buyst (Lotto-Soudal) same time
Final general classification standings
1. Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) 83 hrs 17 mins 13 secs
2. Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) + 1 min 51 secs
3. Chris Froome (Team Sky) + 2 mins 24 secs
4. Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) + 3 mins 22 secs
5. Steven Kruijswijk (Lotto NL-Jumbo) + 6 mins 8 secs
6. Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) + 6 mins 57 secs
7. Mikel Landa (Movistar) + 7 mins 37 secs
8. Daniel Martin (UAE Team Emirates) + 9 mins 5 secs
9. Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) + 12 mins 37 secs
10. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) + 14 mins 18 secs