Britain's Geraint Thomas, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey reacts as he crosses the finish line during the twentieth stage of the Tour de France cycling race, an individual time trial over 31 kilometers (19.3 miles) with start in Saint-Pee-sur-Nivelle and finish in Espelette, France, Saturday, July 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Thomas effectively seals his first Tour de France title

July 28, 2018 - 1:05 pm

ESPELETTE, France (AP) — No longer merely a support rider for Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas is going to Paris in the yellow jersey.

The Welshman with Team Sky effectively sealed his first Tour de France title by protecting his lead in the penultimate stage time trial on Saturday.

Thomas takes a lead of 1 minute, 51 seconds over Tom Dumoulin into the mostly ceremonial finish on the Champs-Elysees on Sunday.

"It's just overwhelming," Thomas said. "I didn't think about it all race, and now suddenly I won the Tour."

Dumoulin won the 20th stage by one second ahead of four-time champion Froome, who leapfrogged Primoz Roglic into third place overall.

"After a difficult day yesterday I did not think it was possible," Froome said. "I'm very, very happy. Being on the podium with Geraint is a dream."

Thomas finished third in the stage, 14 seconds behind, but that was more than enough with an advantage of more than two minutes at the start of the day.

Thomas was a support rider during Froome's title rides but he became Sky's undisputed leader when Froome cracked in the grueling 17th stage through the Pyrenees.

Wearing an all-yellow skin suit on a bike in the red, white and blue colors of the British flag, Thomas was the last rider to start.

In a few drops of rain, Thomas was quick to regain control when his wheel appeared to lock up coming around a tricky, tight corner early on the route. Still, he was first at the two checkpoints before slowing his pace in the final kilometers.

"I felt good. I felt strong. I felt really good, actually. I heard I was up and maybe I was pushing it a bit hard on some of those corners," Thomas said. "Nico (Portal, Sky sports director) told me to relax, take it easy and just make sure I won the Tour. And that's what I did."

At the finish, Thomas let out a loud scream and held his arms out wide in celebration. He embraced his wife, Sara Elen, as soon as he got off his bike.

"The last time I cried was when I got married," Thomas said as he teared up.

Thomas is poised to become the third British rider — and first Welshman — to win the Tour after Bradley Wiggins and Froome. Also, he will make it Sky's sixth victory in the last seven years.

Thomas claimed the yellow jersey by winning Stage 11 in the Alps, followed that up with another victory atop Alpe d'Huez a day later, and defended his advantage through the Pyrenees.

"He was in the shape of his life," Dumoulin said. "He didn't make any mistakes. He was never put into trouble by anyone, in the mountains or anywhere — including by myself."

An all-around rider who began his career on the track, Thomas helped Britain to gold medals in team pursuit at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics before turning his full attention to road racing.

Dumoulin clocked 40 minutes, 52 seconds over the hilly and technical 31-kilometer (19-mile) route.

It marked the first time in 12 years the Tour passed through the Basque Country, and fans waving the region's red, green and white flags lined the entire route in front of the area's traditional half-timbered houses.

It was Dumoulin's second career stage win in the Tour, having also won a time trial in 2016. The Dutchman has won six TTs overall at the three Grand Tours — the Tour, the Giro d'Italia and the Spanish Vuelta.

Dumoulin misplaced his rainbow time trial world champion jersey, and his team had to scramble to make a new kit in the morning.

"It was a crazy morning," Dumoulin said. "It's amazing to finish second in the Tour de France. I'm 27 years old and hopefully I'll get stronger, especially in the mountains, and hopefully one day I will be able to win."

American rider Lawson Craddock, who broke his shoulder in the opening stage and sits last overall, also broke down into tears upon reaching the finish.

"It's been an incredibly testing Tour de France for me," Craddock said. "I wasn't sure I could make it this far, and I just enjoyed crossing the finish line today. It was the final test to make it to Paris."

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Associated Press writers Ciaran Fahey and Samuel Petrequin contributed.

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More Tour de France coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/TourdeFrance

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Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/asdampf

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