History beckons, but ‘buzz’ of yellow weighing heavily on Thomas

The 32-year-old’s dream of upstaging the four-time champion Froome to become the Tour’s first Welsh winner is being challenged on all fronts.

Heavy crown: Geraint Thomas (c) rides in the pack during the 15th stage.   -  AFP

A history-making chapter in the life of Geraint Thomas may be around the corner, but the “buzz” of wearing the Tour de France yellow jersey is starting to weigh heavily.

“Wearing the yellow jersey, you get a buzz out of that,” Thomas said after his fourth full day in the race lead he took on stage 11 with the first of two successive wins in the high Alps.

Thomas finished the 15th stage in relative calm on Sunday with his 1min 39secs lead on Sky team-mate Chris Froome intact ahead of Monday’s rest day. But the 32-year-old’s dream of upstaging the four-time champion Froome to become the Tour’s first Welsh winner is being challenged on all fronts.

From uncertainty over his role for Sky in the final week, to the virulent criticism of his team as it continues to dominate with impunity, Thomas is unlikely to forget what has been his most successful Grand Tour so far. The race resumes on Tuesday, the first of three days in the Pyrenees likely to see Dutchman Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), third at 1:50, among Sky's biggest challengers.

But Sky — and Thomas in particular — is under attack from outside the race.

'Credibility problem'

Marc Madiot, the manager of the Groupama team and the president of the MPCC (Movement for Clean Cycling), which Team Sky has refused to join, expressed dismay at the manner in which an anti-doping case concerning Froome was dropped by the International Cycling Union (UCI) days before the Tour began.

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A day before that decision, Tour organisers had announced they had banned Froome, who returned an “adverse analytical finding” for double the permitted amount of the asthma drug salbutamol at last year's Tour of Spain. “I think cycling and the Tour de France have a credibility problem. You only need to ask a few people on the side of the road to see,” Madiot told French television on Saturday.

Sky may be dominating with Thomas and Froome 1-2 in the overall standings, but Thomas has been booed off the podium, Froome has been spat at and, on the climb to Alpe d'Huez last week, the Kenyan-born Briton was slapped heavily on the back by one fan.

'Same as US Postal'

Former French cyclist Jerome Chiotti, who in 2000 admitted doping with the Festina team, compared Sky's dominant performances to those of disgraced American Lance Armstrong and his US Postal team. “It's the same as what we saw with US Postal,” Chiotti told the Midi Libre newspaper on Sunday.

“Sky want all of us to believe they're at the forefront of everything. It reminds me of when the Italians used to say they were successful because of their diet, before they all got caught (doping).”

The hostility to Sky as it bids to secure the team's sixth yellow jersey success in seven years — the first from Bradley Wiggins and the other four from Froome — is palpable. For Thomas: “It is not a nice situation, obviously.” He added: “For me it's the highlight of my career, and it's a massive honour and privilege to be wearing the jersey. It's been such an incredible race so far and there is a bit of negativity around, which obviously isn't nice. But you have to stay strong in your head, and crack on.”

He added: “The way I see it is I'd rather be in this jersey and having the race of my life and getting booed than maybe being 30th, getting dropped on the first climb of the day and everyone cheering me one. It is what it is.”