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DUSSELDORF, Germany (AFP) — Geraint Thomas said watching the British and Irish Lions beat the awesome All Blacks had inspired him to claim the Tour de France yellow jersey on Saturday.
The 31-year-old Welshman won his first Tour stage after taking a surprise victory in the 14km time-trial around Dusseldorf, which means he will wear the coveted yellow jersey on Sunday’s second stage, also in Germany.
And it was watching the Lions fight back for a dramatic 24-21 win over New Zealand in Wellington that fired up rugby fan Thomas.
“100 percent. Obviously a massive congratulations to (Lions captain) Sam (Warburton) and the boys. It was amazing to watch and it certainly inspired me today,” said Thomas.
After the game he had written on Twitter that he was “pumped” and wished his time-trial would start “in 10mins” rather than several hours later so he could feed off the energy.
Even after setting the fastest time and beating some top time-triallers, including Belarussian team-mate Vasil Kiryienka, the 2015 world time-trial champion, Thomas was still convinced it wouldn’t be enough, particularly with four-time world champion Tony Martin to come, and riding in his home country.
“I just went on the turbo (a warm-down bike) and tried not to look at the results and talked to the boys,” he added. “I just didn’t believe it, I thought someone would beat me, Tony or someone.
“It’s certainly the most nervous I’ve been in a long time.”
Thomas said it was the “stuff of dreams” having watched the Tour as a child.
“It’s just crazy, an amazing feeling. I’ve watched the Tour since I was 10 — that’s what got me into cycling.
“To get on the other side of the camera in my eighth Tour and 12th Grand Tour; to finally get a stage win is amazing and the yellow jersey on top of that is incredible.”
For others, including Australian Richie Porte, just getting around the wet and slippery course was the aim, as Spaniards Alejandro Valverde and Ion Izagirre both crashed out.
The 32-year-old Porte is expected to be one of reigning champion Chris Froome’s main challengers for overall victory.
But while Froome finished sixth at just 12sec behind the winner, Porte was another 35sec and 43 places further back.
“Keep it rubber side down was the goal. I’d followed Nicolas Roche just before the start in the car and he binned it so I was a little bit petrified to be honest,” said Porte. “It was such a slippery course, I would have liked to do a little bit quicker time but the main thing was to keep the skin intact.”
Three-time Tour winner Froome put more than 30 seconds into all his main rivals and was understandably delighted.
“Really happy with that start and amazing to see @GeraintThomas86 in the#yellowjersey #WelshPower #TDF2017 ??,” he said on Twitter.
Nairo Quintana was 36 seconds slower than Froome and lost his Movistar team-mate Valverde too in what was a bad day for the Colombian, twice previously a runner-up to Froome.
But while his team said the loss of Valverde, Quintana’s chief mountain support, made it a “very, very sad day”, they were nonetheless pleased with their leader’s showing.
Noting that Quintana had beaten Alberto Contador by six seconds and Fabio Aru by four seconds, while finishing only one second behind Porte, Movistar said on Twitter it was “a great performance.”
Another rider happy to get around drama free was Frenchman Romain Bardet, last year’s runner up to Froome.
“I didn’t take any risks, I finished in one piece,” he said. “I don’t particularly like time-trials. I had a clean race with no crash.
“Not so long ago, I was losing more than one minute in 10 kilometres and I’m now 51 seconds down on Geraint Thomas. The Tour is on now.”