Ten years ago to the day a nervous Geraint Thomas rolled down the start ramp in London as he set out on the first Tour de France of his career. Back then he was a little softer around the edges, and riding in his garish red Barloworld kit he finished a respectable 45th place in the opening 7.9km test. Three weeks later he would arrive in Paris, exhausted, and in 140th place overall – one spot shy of the lanterne rouge – but with a couple of kilos chalked off for good measure.
Back in those dizzy days in the English capital – before Team Sky, before British Cycling's boom and then its bust-up, before Yorkshire's Grand Depart, before Dave Brailsford, and before inner chimps and Fancy Bears – Thomas was just a new kid on the block, living out his dream of racing in the pro ranks.
So much has changed since then but Thomas has remained the same: a well-grounded, talented athlete, who throughout Team Sky's travails of the last 12 months has never once neglected or refused questions or dogged responsibility. Success has come his way – both on the boards and on the road – but when he pulled on the maillot jaune in Düsseldorf, having seen off the best time trialists in the world, the satisfaction and pride was evident for all to see.
"I've watched the Tour since I was 10 and that's what got me into cycling. To be the other side of the camera and to take this jersey… this is my eighth Tour de France and my 12th Grand Tour and to finally win a stage is amazing and the jersey on top of that is incredible," he said.
As a 10-year-old Thomas would rush home from school to catch the final kilometres of the Tour. He had begged and pleaded for his parents to buy a satellite subscription in order to watch the race and from then a dream was born.
It hasn't always been easy. There have been some heavy setbacks, sacrifices and blows along the way, including a broken pelvis in 2013 and of course this year's fall in the Giro d'Italia when he looked set to test himself in the role of Team Sky's GC contender before being taken down by a poorly parked police motorbike.
Just a few weeks on from the Giro d'Italia, the Welshman found himself sitting in yellow. It marked quite the turnaround for a rider who had thought his season had gone up in smoke.
"This is incredible. The Giro was a massive disappointment and at Tirreno we had our share of bad luck as well. It's nice to just not get any bad luck. It was just about pacing it for me. That was my weak point in the past. It couldn't have gone any better and every big rider who was coming after me, I was like 'he's going to beat me, he's going to beat me.' It's just an amazing feeling and I'm just shocked.
"Having the Tour as the goal kept me going. If I didn't have that I think I'd be three or four kilos heavier and going slow. It's a great day and this makes up for that disappointment."
His teammate and leader, Chris Froome, is 15 seconds adrift but of the bona fide GC hopefuls, only Simon Yates (Orica-Scott) is within 40 seconds of the race lead with Alberto Contador, Nairo Quintana, Romain Bardet and Fabio Aru scattered across a minute, much further down the standings. While Froome remains Team Sky's leading option and the defending champion, Thomas has put himself in with an excellent chance of improving on his best place finish of 15th in the race.
"It's obviously a big boost to morale but the goal is still Froome and helping him as much as possible," Thomas said.
"For sure, if I end up staying up there on GC for a bit longer then that's great. It was a huge disappointment at the Giro and it would be nice to keep progressing from previous years here. I just want to be in thick of it, consistently for Froome and by doing that, that will keep me up there."
Wherever Thomas eventually finishes in this year's Tour the race will be remembered as a success for the Welshman. After 10 years of knocking on the door he has the first yellow jersey of his career, adding his name to the exclusive club of British riders to wear the Tour de France leader's jersey.
It's been a long road but ten years after rolling down the start ramp in London, Thomas has the reward he dreamed of as a child.
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