Britain’s Geraint Thomas fulfilled his childhood dream by winning the Tour de France Sunday after the 21st and final stage won by Norway’s Alexander Kristoff.
Thomas, of Team Sky, finished the race in Paris with a near two-minute lead on Dutch rival Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) to secure his first yellow jersey, with teammate and four-time and defending champion Chris Froome finishing third at 2:24.
“It’s still not sinking in, it’s incredible,” said Thomas, looking gaunt and tired after three weeks of “suffering day-to-day” on the 105th edition.
The 32-year-old Welshman, the third Briton to win the race after Froome and Bradley Wiggins, secured Team Sky’s sixth victory in the race from the past seven editions.
“Big respect to Froomey,” he said. “It could have been awkward, there could have been tension… he’s a great champion and I’ve always had respect for you.
“The dream was always to participate, and that dream came true 11 years ago. Now, up here, being in the yellow jersey in front of all of you (the crowd) is just… wow.”
Thomas, known for having a beer while watching his favourite sport of rugby, was quick to grab a Welsh flag before he jumped on to the top step of the podium before listening to a rendition of God Save the Queen — the British national anthem.
“I started cycling because of this race. I remember running home from school to watch it,” said Thomas, who paid a heartfelt tribute to his wife Sara, who was emotional as she stood on the sidelines.
“The amount of support I’ve got… ah, my wife. Big thanks to Sara. She’s been with me through thick and thin.”
Thomas, who won back-to-back stages in the Alps before sealing victory with a third-place finish in the penultimate stage time trial on Saturday, took a 1min 51sec lead over Dumoulin into the 21st stage from Houilles to the French capital.
The final stage is usually a festive affair, and Thomas was seen celebrating with fellow Sky teammates early in the stage as he soaked up becoming the first Welsh yellow jersey winner.
It took several laps of the inner-city circuit around the Champs Elysees for the race to kick into action.
And after a six-man breakaway was reeled in late on, the sprinters’ teams upped the pace to chase down a last-ditch attempt by Belgian champion Yves Lampaert, of Quick Step.
Lampaert was caught with only 220 metres remaining, and from there UAE team sprinter Kristoff came off the wheel in front of him to surge to the line and hold off Germany’s John Degenkolb and Frenchman Arnaud Demare.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Kristoff. “I’ve dreamt about this victory for many years.”
Thomas rolled over the line seconds later, smiling and joking with teammate, training partner and close friend Froome.
Slovakian sprint king Peter Sagan failed to get in contention for the final sprint days after suffering injuries in a spectacular crash in the Pyrenees.
But the Bora rider consoled himself with three stage wins as well as winning his sixth green jersey for the points competition, equalling the record of Germany’s Erik Zabel.
“I’m very happy, I suffered a lot in the last three days, but I’m very proud to take my sixth green jersey,” said Sagan.
Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe had already secured the polka dot jersey for the King of the Mountains competition, a prize which came with two impressive stage wins, in the Alps then the Pyrenees.
“We’re on the most beautiful avenue in the world, I’ve got this jersey and two stage wins,” said Alaphilippe.
“The race is over, but it’s not sinking in.”
France saw yellow jersey hope and former two-time podium finisher Romain Bardet, of AG2R, disappointed with a sixth place finish at nearly seven minutes behind.
But his teammate Pierre Latour boosted their campaign by winning the white jersey for the best-placed rider aged under 25.