Thomas (Sky) realised his potential as a Grand Tour contender in a flawless performance at the 105th edition in which he was the strongest rider in the strongest team across an attacking race.
The 32-year-old finished third on the penultimate time trial stage yesterday, behind winner Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb), who pipped Froome by just one second to claim line honours with panache.
Thomas addressed broadcast media prior to an official winner’s press conference with tears in his eyes.
“It’s incredible. I didn’t let myself think about this time. It was all about the next stage, or the next descent. When I crossed the line and realised I’d won there is just so many emotions,” he said.
Thomas has been prone to crashing in the past but barely slipped at this race. He carried a wishbone from his wife throughout, who surprised him just past the finish line in Espelette before a moving rugby maul of cameras and photographers descended.
“I didn’t know she was here. She thinks she’s a bit of a bad luck token. There are a few times she’s come, like last year and I crashed out. I crossed the line and just saw her there, it made it [emotions] even worse really.”
Traditionally, Thomas has performed best at the Tour as a super domestique to Froome. However, this victory may permanently change the trajectory of Welshman’s career in cycling and at Sky if he extends his contract with the squad as expected.
Asked if he could ever return to the Tour as anything other than a leader or defending champion now, Thomas was modest.
“I don’t know. I’m not thinking as far ahead as tomorrow to be honest, maybe ask me that next week,” he said after stage 19.
Thomas has been able to profit from Froome’s stature as well as overall standing when the four-time race champion was himself in contention for the podium, sitting second overall.
“It takes a bit of the pressure off,” Thomas had reflected on the second rest day.
The Criterium du Dauphine champion won two consecutive stages in the Alps to take the yellow jersey, which he never relinquished. He and Froome downplayed questions related to leadership, which became abundantly clear when Giro d’Italia winner Froome faltered in the Pyrenees.
“It’s really nice Froomey committed fully to me and fair play,” Thomas said. “Legend is over used but I think he’s one of the best stage race riders around. Ever. So, to have him commit to me is really nice.
“He came to me the day he had a bad day and he seemed genuinely happy for me and pleased,” he continued. “The team have been great, the morale in the team has been really good.”
The Tour de France finishes tomorrow on the Champs Elysees in Paris. Dumoulin is second overall – one minute and 51 seconds behind Thomas – with Froome moving from fourth to third on the general classification.