PARIS (AP) — Five years ago when riding the Tour de France in support of Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas fell off his bike on a Corsican road in the opening stage and broke his pelvis.
Against all odds, Thomas soldiered on for 3,000 kilometers and three weeks to the finish line in Paris, where he celebrated the first of Froome's four victories with the rest of their Team Sky teammates.
On Sunday, it was now Thomas's turn to add a first Grand Tour triumph to an already glorious career with victory in the Tour de France.
"He is a true fighter," says Sky principal Dave Brailsford, the man who masterminded Britain's successes at the Olympics and Tour de France wins for Bradley Wiggins and Froome.
"When he fractured his hip five years ago, he could not even stand up his bike in the team time trial that followed. He still carried on and finished the race. It speaks volumes about his personality. Since his junior years, he has always wanted to win."
At 32, the new Tour de France champion is everything but an overnight success.
Growing up on the outskirts of Cardiff, Wales, Thomas started bike racing at 10, and his exceptional qualities did not remain unnoticed for long.
"I first saw him when he was about 13 or 14 and he joined me at 17," says Rod Ellingworth, the performance director at Team Sky, who also trained Thomas as a British team coach. "You could see straightaway he was just flying round the track, he was pretty good. As he joined the junior program, you just knew he was going to be pretty talented."
Thomas's first successes came on the track. In 2006, he was the youngest member of the British pursuit team that competed at the world championships. In 2008, he won the Olympic gold medal alongside Wiggins. Four years later in London, with a second gold medal secured in the same event, Thomas left track cycling to focus on road racing.
Described by his coaches as a dedicated professional with a healthy and a balanced lifestyle, Thomas had already showed immense skills on the road from winning the Paris-Roubaix junior race in 2004.
"Geraint's ambition was classics first," Ellingworth says. "Then he rode the Tour in 2007 and three years later he wore the white jersey (for the best young rider). He had this ambition to win the Tour in the back of his mind."
Riding for the Barloworld team at the time, Thomas was the youngest cyclist to start that 2007 Tour when it began from London.
"He spent most of the time at the back of the peloton that year and nobody thought he would finish the race," Brailsford recalls. "He still made it. It showed his character."
Thomas, who is nicknamed "G'' in the peloton, finished 140th, second to last.
Years later, he signaled himself as a potential Grand Tour winner when he won the week-long Paris-Nice in 2016. According to Ellingworth, that victory ahead of two-time Tour de France winner Alberto Contador was a turning point.
But Thomas, who has been a Sky rider since 2010, went through pain and injuries the next season, being forced to retire from the Tour and the Giro because of crashes. He still wore the yellow jersey at the Tour after winning the opening time trial but broke his collarbone in a downhill crash in the Alps.
"This year, he arrived at the Tour in very good shape and his win at the Criterium du Dauphine in the buildup gave him a confidence boost," Brailsford says. "This victory was of great importance."
As in previous years, Thomas started the Tour to help Froome try and win for a record-equaling fifth time. But Froome crashed in the first stage and lost time, then cracked in the Pyrenees while Thomas' tremendous form was rewarded with impressive wins in the Alps.
Sky, and particularly Froome, were subject to abuse during this tour after Froome was cleared of a doping case only days before the start. But Thomas looked immune to the boos and jeers that accompanied them through this 3,350-kilometer odyssey. He won back-to-back mountain stages and became the first British rider to win at the Alpe d'Huez. He sealed his victory with a third-place finish on Saturday in the challenging time trial.
"He is really laid back, but not like he does not care," Ellingworth says. "He is really detailed about what he does. He is really confident in himself and uses his people very well. You don't mind going the extra mile for him."
Thomas lives and trains in Monaco with his wife but often returns to Cardiff to socialize with friends and family. For a long time, he had a reputation as a party boy, always up for a few pints of beer while watching a rugby match.
"Like much young British guys, he likes a drink or two, but he is not wild," Ellingworth says. "When he was with me full-time, we lived in Manchester or in Italy. I encouraged him to get out and get it out of his system, in a way. He just enjoys life. He also got older, he got married, and things have settled down."
Now he's at the peak of his career but out of contract with Sky at the end of the season. Thomas has yet to decide on his future with the British outfit. Brailsford is confident he will remain a Sky rider, while Ellingworth insists Thomas's "mental abilities" and love for bike racing will spur him to continue.
"He is loyal, I never had any doubts about it. When the team needed him, he was always there," Brailsford says. "After all these years spent giving to others, he finally got rewarded."
Associated Press writers Andrew Dampf and Ciaran Fahey contributed to this story.
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