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Tour de France: Final battle looms for Thomas after Pyrenees

Just 31 kilometers of time trialling and the procession into Paris separate Geraint Thomas from his first Tour de France title and Team Sky's sixth victory in seven years.

Ahead of the Grand Depart, almost three weeks ago, relatively long odds were on offer for the 32-year-old winning, but the maillot jaune has looked faultless throughout. He skipped through the first week as if the hurdles of the cobbles and the cross-winds were child's play, and then delivered impressive and mature performances in the mountains.

Two stage wins in the Alps built upon the early foundations, while key stages into Saint-Lary-Soulan and today into Laruns saw another level added to Fortress Thomas. The 'bad bay' never materialized, and assuming Thomas can hold second placed Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) at 2:05 in Saturday's time trail, the 2018 Tour de France title will be his.

On Stage 19, Team Sky and Thomas saw off their last challenges in the Pyrenees. Several rivals huffed and puffed, but the walls around Thomas remained firm, even if Primoz Rogic and his LottoNL-Jumbo team at least threatened to open up the race.

The race burst to life on the legendary Tourmalet with a breakaway that included Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale), Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin) and Mikel Landa (Movistar). Team Sky held the group at around three minutes, but LottoNL-Jumbo then turned up the heat with a viciously strong turn of speed from Robert Gesink that saw several of Thomas' teammates distanced.

Roglic made several moves, and, along with Dumoulin, isolated Thomas from his last remaining helpers Egan Bernal and Chris Froome.

Despite a tense and gripping final climb up the Col d'Aubisque, Thomas never looked in trouble. He matched Dumoulin and then urged the Dutchman to chase down Roglic. When the LottoNL-Jumbo rider eventually escaped on the descent to Laruns, the task of defending yellow was effectively assured. Roglic would claim a well-deserved stage and move ahead of Froome into third ahead of the time trial, but Thomas' yellow jersey was preserved.

"That was a big day today, and I'm happy to get that ticked off," Thomas said in his post-stage press conference. "I guess it's a bit like the Olympic final in London, when you had the tension the day before. This is more spread out and it comes down to tomorrow. I think I can just take confidence from how I've been riding and try and recover as best as I can. What will be, will be tomorrow."

Thomas admitted that marking Dumoulin, the time trial world champion and his closet rival coming into the race, was his main aim on the final stage through the Pyrenees.

"The main thing was to follow Tom, and I was quite confident that I was good enough to follow him. I wasn't super stressed. Obviously, it was hard, and when I heard Froome was struggling a bit it wasn't good to hear, but I knew that once we went over the top the guys weren't working that well together so he had the chance to come back. Once he came back it was good to see. It was certainly a tough day and it lived up to that."

My results will stand

It is not just Thomas' legs that have withstood pressure over the last three weeks. In his daily press conferences there have been questions relating to spectator behavior, the expulsion of Gianni Moscon, and the leadership dynamic with Froome.

The Welshman's post-stage press affairs have been entirely different affairs to the ones in which Froome, and before him, Bradley Wiggins, held court. Thomas has faced fewer questions relating to Team Sky's reputation and another topic, doping, but on Friday he was asked if the public should have faith in his performances.

Away from the Tour microphone Thomas can be vocal and open about such issues, but during this year's race he has been toeing a line and sticking to a script – and a short one too. It is a tactic that has served him well, even if the press conferences have been repetitive.

"What can you say? All I can say is that I do it the right way," he said.

"We train super hard and there's nothing I can say that will prove it. I've just got to keep doing what I'm doing. It will stand the test of time. The team here is super strong. Just look at the individuals that we have. Kwiatkowski wins Classics, you've got myself and Froome. You've got Egan Bernal, the brightest talent in climbing we've had in a long, long time. Luke Rowe who is up there in all the Classics. Castrovejo, Gianni and Wout. Wout has won Liege.

"The team is just phenomenally strong. It's not just having good legs, it's about having good heads. We ride together really well. We don't panic, and today really showed that. I work super hard. I've had some bad luck and things, and it's nice to see it paying off. There's one more big day."

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