Tour de France
Defending Tour champion Chris Froome following...

Froome: ‘The strongest rider in the race won’

Four-time Tour de France Chris Froome stated that his teammate and overall Tour de France winner, Geraint Thomas, was the strongest rider in this year's race.

ESPELETTE, France (VN) — The scene inside a high school gymnasium Saturday in France’s Basque Country said it all. Geraint Thomas was center-stage in the yellow jersey giving the traditional post-race winner’s press conference. Chris Froome sat off to one side behind some barriers playing with his iPhone.

Thomas usurped Froome to win this Tour and, despite some expectations of rivalry, Froome magnanimously fell on his sword throughout the race to support his teammate.

“The strongest rider won the Tour de France,” Froome said. “It was clear once we hit the Alps, Geraint was in better condition than I was.”

When Froome struggled Friday and slipped off the podium position, some were already writing obituaries on the Froome era.

On Saturday, Froome reminded everyone why he’s won six grand tours. On the hilly narrow roads over the green hills of France’s Basque Country, Froome came within one second of winning the stage. Like a proud fighter, he clawed back onto the final podium in Paris at third overall and knocked would-be challenger Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) into fourth.

Froome stated flatly he was still racing to win. Not just the stage, but the entire Tour de France.

“Up until today, anything was still possible,” Froome said. “This is bike racing. There are one thousand and one different scenarios on the road. That’s the nature of the race.”

After riding away with the pink jersey late in the Giro d’Italia in May, Froome is a firm believer in racing until the end. Saturday could have played out differently. Thomas might have crashed, Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) could have punctured. And Froome could have won.

In the end, everyone stayed upright, and Froome seemed genuinely delighted to see his friend and understudy win this Tour.

“His victory makes me really proud,” Froome said. “I am glad to be a part of that. Standing on that podium tomorrow will be a dream scenario for us.”

Froome came to this Tour hoping to win an unprecedented fourth straight grand tour, but played the role of a loyal teammate when Thomas emerged as the strongest rider on Team Sky. That doesn’t mean he still wasn’t keeping his own chances alive.

Froome said he will celebrate Thomas’s victory as his own. The pair has raced together for more than a decade. Thomas has buried himself to help Froome win four yellow jerseys. And when Thomas emerged as the stronger rider, Froome paid back the favor and played the loyal teammate.

“Like any grand tour, this was a rollercoaster,” Froome said. “Today I was really grateful to have good legs — maybe a few seconds less than I had hoped for — but I am really glad to be back on the podium. It’s going to be a proud moment for me.”

Thomas stopped his teammate and friend from joining the five-win club and becoming the first rider since Marco Pantani to win both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour in one year. Froome remained devoted and never raced negatively against his team’s interest.

Froome was loyal to Thomas to the end because the race dynamics stacked up that way. Thomas won because he was the strongest rider in the Tour.

So the question begs, who will be the boss of Team Sky?

“That’s a question for team management,” Froome demurred. “It’s too early. I am not making any decisions right now.”

Froome will be on the podium Sunday in third behind his teammate, but there is a sense that Froome isn’t giving up his crown that easily. On Saturday he proved the grand-tour killer still lives.