As the Welshman dropped the mic in the way more akin to a singer at Wembley than a cyclist, the joy was plain for all to see on Geraint Thomas’ beaming face. Coming into the race as a support rider to the usually irrepressible Chris Froome, who was in pursuit of his fifth Tour de France title in the last six years, it was the perennial team player who finally got his day in the sun and, more importantly, the prized yellow jersey.
The 105th Tour de France started in frantic fashion in Founteney-del-Comte as Chris Froome and burgeoning Team Sky talent Egan Bernal were both in crashes as young Colombian sprinter Fernando Gaviria won the first stage, in a remarkable show of power and composure, suggesting a bright future for the 23-year-old with the Quick-Step Floors Team. This set a precedent for a frenetic tour in which favourites Richie Porte (BMC racing) and Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain Merida) both had to withdraw; Porte falling hard on the infamous Arras-Robaix cobbles of Stage Nine, while Nibali has since had surgery for fractured vertebrae after an alleged crash with a police motorbike on Stage 12 to Alpe d’Huez.
The unfortunate nature of Nibali’s crash was merely the tip of the iceberg, however, as the drama off the course threatened to overshadow the action on it. This started as early as the opening ceremony where Team Sky were vociferously booed at the team presentation in response to the UCI and WADA clearing Chris Froome’s name after a urine sample taken at the Vuelta a Espana showed higher than the allowed amount of the common Asthma drug Salbutamol. Froome maintained throughout testing that he was an innocent man, this purely being a mistake of his TUE (Theraputic Use Exemption) not being filed and he did in fact not use more than the regulated amount. With both the notoriety of drug use in cycling which was brought to light in harrowing fashion by Lance Armstrong’s 2013 confession, and the continued success of Team Sky, there has been distrust of the team from both the fans and fellow cyclists as to how Froome was allowed to continue competing. Throughout the tour Froome was vehemently booed, punched and spat on. Vincenzo Nibali slammed the verdict as “a case of double standards” and four-time world time-trial world champion Tony Martin called Froome’s acquittal a “scandal”.
The drama, as it so often does with those under pressure, appeared to be following the Kenyan-born Brit, as a police officer grabbed his arm and knocked him off his bike. Froome, wearing a grey aim jacket in the overcast conditions down the Col du Portet descent on Stage 17, was mistaken for a fan trying to follow the route with the riders. This led to terse and heated exchange which Froome later put down to a “misunderstanding”, but it was undeniably a slipping of the cool, collected façade the public are so used to seeing from him, suggesting that, for once, the outward distractions were starting to faze the usually ice-cold champion.
Another unfortunately prominent antagonist of this Tour was the violence throughout, notable cases including the disqualification of Gianni Moscon for punching a fellow rider on Stage 15. The Italian struck out at Elie Gesbert at the start of the Millau to Carcassonne Stage. On the official Team Sky Twitter page, Moscon released a statement, saying he “totally regrets my actions”, stating it was “wrong” while apologising Gesbert and to the public. Sir Dave Brailsford also came out stating that Team Sky “support and accept the decision” to remove Moscon. As well as this, Stage 16 had to be stopped in opening stretches as a strike from French Farmers over the governments decision to cut state aid ended in the police using pepper spray to restrain them. This blew back into the eyes of the oncoming riders, resulting in the stage being halted. While the stage was stopped, there was no stopping Thomas as he took the yellow on stage 11, following it up with a breathtaking sprint in stage 12, beautifully timing his sprint 6 kilometres out from the finish line atop Alpe d’Huez. From then on in, Thomas didn’t ever look like being overthrown at the top, despite the valiant efforts of Team Sunweb’s Tom Dumoulin; the irrepressible Welshman showing his phenomenal all-round abilities along with the best support team in the Tour to set up yet another victory for Team Sky. One cannot help but think though, that this year’s Tour will be remembered for everything but the cycling on show.