LUZ-ARDIDEN, France (VN) – Geraint Thomas has had his best Tour de France to date, but the 25-year-old’s race nearly ended Thursday when he left the road twice on the wet, technical descent of La Hourquette d’Ancizan. Thomas (Team Sky) recovered to be the second rider across one of the sport’s most storied climbs, the Col du Tourmalet, and then go on to earn the most combative rider’s prize for the 12th stage.
Thomas jumped into the day’s early breakaway in the second kilometer of the race and the group carried a 7:40 advantage over the top of the Cat. 1 Hourquette d’Ancizan, which featured in the Tour for the first time. The 17km descent was narrow and the road often wet with a morning rain.
“I was just looking to get in the break and if it stayed away, go for the stage,” he said. “I wanted to ride aggressively. We haven’t got Brad [Wiggins] now and we all just want to keep racing and stay in the thick of it, flying the flag.”
Partway down the descent Thomas came too fast into a hard, right-hand switchback. He rode straight through the corner and went down in a patch of rocky grass a meter before dropping over the edge of the mountain. He remounted quickly without any visible damage, but lost his focus and missed another turn moments later.
“That second one I had a bit of mud on the tires,” he said. “I just lost it a bit in my head and couldn’t slow down in time.”
His team car pulled along side their chasing rider once he was moving again and urged him to refocus. “I had to change the bike and after that it was fine,” he said.
Thomas started the day 5:51 down on maillot jaune Thomas Voeckler and was the virtual leader at the time. A hard chase delivered him back to the break at the base of the day’s second climb, the hors categorie Tourmalet. Thursday was Bastille Day, the celebration of French independence, and the frenzied French fans added to the usual Basque energy in the Pyrenées.
“It was great. It was the first time I’ve climbed at the front in the Tour and to really soak in that atmosphere; it was really amazing the amount of people out there, the passion of them,” said Thomas.
When Thomas upped the tempo midway up the Tourmalet, he eventually rode every one of his companions off the wheel and was alone high on the 7.3-percent, 17km climb. He went too deep, however, and began to struggle near the summit. Jerémy Roy clawed Thomas back and the pair went over the top with three minutes on the yellow jersey group. Thomas’ virtual lead was gone and his stage hopes soon vanished when he faded early on the climb to Luz-Ardiden. As he went back through the GC favorites, the race’s first best young rider soaked in the atmosphere.
“I was getting goose bumps and that really drives you on,” he said. “We only had about two and a half minutes at the bottom of the final climb so I didn’t really fancy my chances to be honest but I kept plugging away and kept on trying.
“I was feeling good and the buzz from the crowd helped a lot as well… We got out there and gave it a good bash. It’s just great to be up the front racing on a day like today – it was a great day out.”