Geraint Thomas reflects on storming the Tourmalet on Bastille Day
Welsh ace picks up combativity prize, with Uran's form providing further cheer for Team Sky
Bastille Day may be the one day that every French rider wants to get into a break in the Tour de France, but today it was a rider from the Pays de Galles who gatecrashed the Gallic party as Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas rode away with the Stage 12 combativity prize, trousering €2,000 in the process – enough, you’d imagine, to keep him in Welsh cakes, which he’s known to be partial to, for a while.
The history books will record that it was Samuel Sanchez who won the first high mountain stage of this year’s race on a day when defending champion Alberto Contador slipped further out of contention and Thomas Voeckler held onto the maillot jaune on the Fete Nationale.
But for fans watching the race live back in the UK, following it online or fortunate enough to be there in person waving Welsh or Union flags at the roadside, the story of the day was Thomas putting on a show that proves that Team Sky are still very much in this race despite the loss of their leader last week..
For the first time in this year’s race and liberated from the duties that he would have undertaken had Bradley Wiggins not crashed out of the race last Friday, Thomas was able to go on the break, briefly leading the race as virtual maillot jaune as he and five fellow escapees built a lead of more than 7 minutes on the peloton.
There was not one but two heart-in-mouth moments as the 25-year-old Welshman ended up on the grass verge by the side of the road shortly after cresting the summit of the day’s first climb, the Category 1 Hourquette d’Ancizan.
"In the first crash, I just slipped," explained Thomas. "Both wheels slid and I ended up crashing. The second one happened because there was a bit of mud on the tires and I just lost the plot a bit. I skidded and just went straight on. I changed my bike and it was a bit better after that."
That appeared to be his work done for the afternoon as the remaining four breakaway riders headed off up the road to start the climb of the Tourmalet, but not only did Thomas rejoin them on that legendary climb, he rode straight past them, heading up the last part of the climb alone at the head of the Tour de France before Jeremy Roy of FDJ bridged back across.
The pair were finally caught and passed by the eventual stage winner Sanchez and runner up Jelle Vandenert of Omega Pharma Lotto just 7 kilometres from the finish, but to Thomas’s fans – and he’s made a few more of those with his strong showing so far in the race – today was every bit as memorable as his ride in Stage 3 of last year’s race when he finished second to Thor Hushovd.
"I was feeling good and the buzz from the crowd helped a lot as well,” said Thomas. “We're missing Brad and wanted to get stuck into the race. We got out there and gave it a good bash. It's just great to be up the front racing on a day like today - it was a great day out.
That’s probably a bit of an understatement. Few pros experience the thrill of being the first rider cheered through by the crowds on Bastille Day. Few get to be the lead man parting the massed throngs on a mythical climb such as the Tourmalet.
This afternoon, Thomas did both, although he admitted that by the time he was on that climb, the going was starting to get tough.
"I found myself going a bit too hard [up the Tourmalet],” he admitted. “I had to back off a bit because I wanted to be able to get up this [Luz-Ardiden] as well.
"We only had about two and a half minutes at the bottom of the final climb so I didn't really fancy my chances to be honest but I kept plugging away and kept on trying.
“I thought that being caught with 7 kilometres to go wasn't too bad but it seemed as though there was another half hour of pedalling after that!
"Everyone is going really well though,” he concluded. “Morale and confidence is good in the team.”
That was a sentiment echoed by Team Sky Sports Director Sean Yates. "G did a great ride today,” he explained. “The plan was to either get him or Edvald [Boasson Hagen] in the break today. If you look at the history book this is a stage where riders have often stayed away from a long break.
"The fact that G was only four or five minutes down on GC didn’t really help him,” Yates reflected. “They might have given him more rope if he’d been a couple more minutes down.
"But he got lots of TV time and was right up there until the closing stages so it was a great ride by him.”
There was a further boost for Team Sky in the shape of a 13th place finish by the Colombian climber, Rigoberto Uran, who joined the British outfit ahead of the start of this season from caisse d’Epargne.
"Rigoberto held his own well today,” said Yates. “There’s a long way to go until Paris and there is a lot more climbing to do. It was all about seeing where he was and obviously he has recovered from that injury he picked up in the crash with Bradley. So he is on track for a good GC place.” The 24-year-old currently lies 18th overall.
"Tomorrow is a transitional stage,” continued Yates, adding that “the next big one” for Uran would be Saturday’s ascent to the summit finish at Plateau de Beille.