PARIS (VN) — They sat next to each other on the barriers in the middle of the Champs-Élysées in the sweltering Paris air, which was hot as a midsummer burp from the Metro. Geraint Thomas’ face was dripping sweat and water, while Peter Kennaugh was smiling as wide as his cheeks would allow.
This was a quiet, if not odd, end for the Sky teammates, and it came in sharp contrast to three weeks at the Tour de France in which they were attacked on the bikes, picked apart as weak in the press, and jeered and held up along the French roads.
A few flashes popped, but the shuffle mostly passed them by. There were bigger things now, a new maillot jaune and a revelatory sprinter. The domestiques had done their duties and crossed the line arm-in-arm with their man Chris Froome, and now the madness of the Tour de France, with its sweaty carnival of camera crews, was on to the next thing.
Thomas poured a bottle of water into his black hair and let it drip off his face, thinned from three weeks at the sharp end, three weeks in which he pedaled nearly every kilometer with a broken pelvis. Kennaugh, 24, to his right, had just finished his first Tour after transitioning from the track, and proved a steady hand in the mountains. The looks on their faces and the relief among the bunch proved it had been a long three weeks.
“Just absolutely dead. Like, in 2011 I was full gas every day, and at the end I was tired. But this year reminds me of 2007, when I did it for the first time,” Thomas said. “It was like, mentally, a switch [went] off after the hard days in the Alps. But we were still up for it. We wanted to ride off the front [in Paris], and get the buzz off the crowd. It was just so hard. You forget how hard it is going up here, on these cobbles … my back was pretty sore anyways. It was just one of those days. And in the last lap, I was like, ‘come on, you’ve got to be there.’”
Thomas, 27, was there all Tour, at first a shadow of himself as he tried to recover in the middle of the 100th Tour de France to prove valuable in the race’s third week, with a very heavy three days in the Alps before the twilight laps in Paris.
“I just took [Froome] to the front and tried to keep him out of trouble. Just up here,” Thomas said, pointing to the uphill tilt of the Champs. “Because this was the slow part, where it’s easy to get swamped, and you could crash. I did that, and I was just struggling …” He trailed off, looking to the crowd and back at Kennaugh before coming back to the realization it was over, that Sky had done it again for the second year in a row.
“Just a great three weeks to be a part of the team and what we’ve done. We’ve taken a few knocks, and criticism as well. So it’s good to come away with a win,” said Thomas, noting that his back was sore from the cobbles due to compensating for a busted pelvis. Asked what it was like to ride with Froome, and if two weeks in yellow had changed him, Thomas said no, Froome was the same and was delivering on potential.
Asked what’s next, Thomas was succinct. “Two weeks completely off now, let myself heal properly, and have a few drinks.”
It wasn’t really the time to talk racing, because the race had exhaled now, and the two riders just sat there, next to their bikes, pixels in the Tour’s immense and fading picture.