Thomas: “Every mountain stage I was under pressure”
Following Saturday’s individual time trial in this southwestern French village, Thomas greeted the press for the customary stage 20 press conference. Thomas, 32, fielded a wide range of questions about the race, which he currently leads with only Sunday’s stage into Paris remaining.
Thomas told reporters that the moment when he felt his Tour victory was most vulnerable came on stage 12, when the peloton raced 175 kilometers from Bourg-Saint-Maurice to l’Alpe d’Huez. Thomas fought off attacks from Romain Bardet (AG2R-LaMondiale), Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), and others, and put in a surge in the final meters to win the stage.
The stage victory, Thomas said, was also his best moment of the race.
“Alpe d’Huez was the most I suffered,” Thomas said. “I tried to stay strong and I did, and that gave me a big boost.”
“To win on Alpe d’Huez in the yellow jersey was just insane,” he added. “That day was just about trying to follow the guys in front. Not knowing how we’d go after the previous [mountain] days, Alpe d’Huez was incredible.”
Thomas also said that he suffered during the four-day run through the Pyrenees during the race’s final week. The race featured three days of climbing through France’s southernmost mountain range, including stage 17, which finished atop the Col du Portet. During the stretch in the mountains, Sky weathered attacks from LottoNL-Jumbo duo Steven Kruijswijk and Primoz Roglic, Movistar’s Mikel Landa and Nairo Quintana, and Dumoulin.
The attacks failed to unseat Thomas from the race’s yellow jersey. They aggression did, however, cause problems for Thomas’s teammate, Chris Froome, who was dropped on both stage 17 and stage 19. Froome was unseated from his second-place spot on the podium and dropped to fourth. He clawed his way back into third after a strong individual time trial on stage 20.
“I think every mountain stage I was under pressure,” Thomas said. “The Pyrenees were hard, the last two days were certainly hard, especially when they sensed Froomey was struggling a bit, and they really went for it. I just followed [Dumoulin] and do my best to follow him.”
Thomas said he tried to follow Dumoulin “like poo on a shoe.”
Thomas’s victory marks Team Sky’s sixth Tour de France win since 2012. Bradley Wiggins won the race that year, followed by Froome’s victories in 2013 and 2015, ’16, and ’17. Sky’s dominance has come under fire from cycling fans, who believe the team’s controlled style of racing has sucked energy and excitement from the race.
Thomas said Sky’s dominance of the Tour is not bad for cycling.
“I’m quite happy with it—it’s not a problem,” Thomas said. “Obviously we’re strong. You look at the individual riders and they’re amazing, to their own credit. I think there’s always going to be haters or whatever, but we work hard and we strive to be the best we can.”
Thomas credited Sky’s dominance to more than just talent.
“It’s not just the legs—it’s the head and the way we ride,” he said.
Thomas also said that worked to block out the recent controversies that engulfed Team Sky and Froome over the past few years. In 2016 it was revealed that Sky administered the powerful corticosteroid Kenacort to Wiggins prior to his victory in 2012 after obtaining a Therapeutic Use Exemption for the drug. In late 2017 news circulated that Froome had recorded an adverse analytical for asthma medication salbutamol during the 2017 Vuelta a España.
“I just stayed in my own little world really. I had my own goals and kept doing what I was doing,” Thomas said. “I was in Los Angeles the start of this year, and it’s totally different when you’re out of the U.K. Obviously it’s not nice to hear and things, but I do what I do and just focus on myself.”
Thomas added that he foregoes reading cycling media to insulate himself from the news.
“I don’t read cycling websites or newspapers—sorry,” Thomas told reporters. “It’s easy to get wrapped up and get angry or depressed or whatever. I just stay in my own world. I read about rugby and what people say about [Welsh rugby player] George North or whatever.”