PARIS (AP) — The Tour de France has a new champion, but the narrative remains the same at cycling's biggest race: Team Sky's domination has no limits.
By placing Geraint Thomas on top of the podium on the Champs-Elysees on Sunday, the British outfit ended three weeks of racing which sadly lacked suspense with a sixth win in the past seven Tours.
Once again, Team Sky riders have been untouchable on the roads of France, controlling the race with ease as Thomas became the third Briton to win the Tour after Bradley Wiggins and four-time champion Chris Froome.
Since Wiggins won in 2012 wearing a Team Sky jersey, the richest team in the peloton has claimed every edition of the race except one, in 2014 when Froome crashed out and Vincenzo Nibali of Italy emerged victorious.
Even the expulsion of Gianni Moscon for punching a rival during Stage 15 had no effect on Sky's well-oiled machine, as the team managed by Dave Brailsford completed a fourth consecutive Grand Tour win.
"We were well behind our goals the year we started, we did better the next year then we won the Tour with Bradley," said Brailsford, who has supervised the team since it was created in 2010. "Chris Froome learned a lot by riding alongside Bradley, he gained a lot of experience, then Geraint learned from Chris. It is passed on from a generation to the next. We are always thinking about the future."
Although Thomas has yet to extend his contract with Sky, both he and Froome are expected to be part of the team next season. At 32, Thomas is in the best form of his life while the 33-year-old Froome will try again to equal five-time Tour winners Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain.
More talent is already emerging behind them in Egan Bernal, the 21-year-old Colombian rider who competed at his first Tour this summer. Bernal did amazing work for Thomas and Froome in the mountains, assisting both in the final Pyrenees stage. Despite his relentless efforts as a domestique, Bernal still managed a 15th-place finish overall.
In addition to Bernal, Brailsford has also recruited two of the brightest prospects in cycling, 21-year-old Pavel Sivakov and Tao Geoghegan Hart, who is 23-years-old.
"My job is to look three or four years ahead," Brailsford said. "Our riders in their 30's won't be there forever. Within the next two or three seasons, I will have the opportunity to add other youngsters in the group. This year, Egan has been looking very carefully at was Chris does, he kept asking questions, looked at everything we do to win the Tour. It was the best possible experience for the future."
Sky's rivals have often complained of a lack of means in attempting to dethrone the British giant at the Tour. Sky has an estimated budget of $40 million, about double that of Tom Dumoulin's Sunweb team.
"Of course, they have more money to spend, it makes life easier sometimes," said Dumoulin, the runner-up to Thomas. "Of course, having a big budget matters. But it would be too easy to say that Geraint Thomas had a big advantage just with this team. He was the strongest rider."
Brailsford is adamant it's not just the money, but also Sky's expertise in developing talents that help him lure the best riders.
"Bernal has a very, very modest income," he said. "When compared to the average World Tour income, it's not much, most of the riders are making more money."
David Lappartient, president of cycling's governing body, has suggested that a salary cap limiting team spending could be introduced to ensure more suspense in the future, while Tour director Christian Prudhomme would like to see a ban on power meters monitoring cyclists' watts to make the race less predictable.
"Because of these power meters, riders know for how many kilometers and minutes they can sustain their effort," Prudhomme said. "Because of that, bluff strategies have disappeared from the race, and they should return."