Chris Froome won the Tour de France but Geraint Thomas has won cycling fans' hearts
The Welshman has come through crashes, controversy and crunching pain, and done it all with a smile on his face. Here's why Geraint Thomas has been the real star of Team Sky
Chris Froome has made history, becoming the first British rider to win the Tour De France twice. But in a challenging year for both the Tour and 'Froomey' himself, it's been another British rider who has captured the imagination.
Geraint Thomas, Froome's faithful 'domestique' throughout this year's remarkable Team Sky victory, is an easy man to get behind. He's frank, open, and seemingly happy to go the extra mile in front of the media as well as on the bike.
From dusting himself down after crashing off a cliff to being touted as a future team leader, this was the Welshman's breakthrough year.
Thomas eventually finished 15th in the overall rankings, but if he hadn't broken his body for the sake of team leader Froome there is every sign he could have finished much higher. He was fourth until stage 19, and former Team Sky coach Sean Yates even compared him to another Great British rider: Sir Bradley Wiggins.
"Geraint Thomas is a phenomenon, he's a one of a kind almost," Yates said after stage 12. "Obviously Bradley Wiggins has won Olympic medals and won the Tour de France, and Geraint looks like he can follow in his footsteps in the long term."
Even when he's had a rough ride, Thomas took the setbacks with philosophical good grace – and a way with words worthy of Eric Cantona. When he slipped down the pecking order during Stage 19, this was his answer.
“As they say, sometimes you’re the hammer, sometimes you’re the nail," he said. "I was a cheapy little Ikea one today. It was terrible.”
What do riders facing 3,360km of cycling hell eat? Teams have tightly regulated diet plans thanks to their own travelling chef – although, in Thomas's case, clearly there's some room for manoeuvre. Surely Welsh cakes are not Team Sky-sanctioned snacks?
No lasting damage – they make 'em tough in Cardiff.
Team Sky are a victim of their own success; in such a dominant year, in a sport with such a murky recent past, it was inevitable that questions would be asked. Was Froome clean?
The questions turned ugly, with Froome being spat at mid-race and even at one point having urine thrown at him.
All of Team Sky fought back and insisted they were "winning clean", and Thomas was no exception, pointing out that when the British team was losing last year the spectators couldn't get enough of them.
"They loved us last year when we were losing, but I’d rather be winning and get booed than be where we were last year,” he said.
It's been a heavy three weeks, but judging by Thomas's Twitter feed on Sunday it was an even heavier night...
... Featuring the compulsory Queen sing-a-long.
When he arrived back at Team Sky headquarters, Thomas seemed to be feeling the effects.
— Alex Murray (@leguape) July 27, 2015
He'll have to recover quickly: his stag do's planned for tomorrow.
"Tuesday is the start of my stag," he told BBC Sport. "I'm getting married at the end of October, and the plan is to fly off to Berlin after a night out in Cardiff with some mates."
Could Thomas be challenging from a Tour win himself next year? Plenty of people believe he has what it takes, including, most importantly, Team Sky boss Dave Brailsford, who said he "could lead other teams" at the Tour De France, as well as leaving the door open for him to lead Team Sky in a future Grand Tour.
As for Thomas himself, he thinks he's ready for whatever the future holds: "I'm really looking forward to it," he said. "I think if I was a leader here I'd run the podium close, if I wasn't doing so much early on – even though that's easy to say now it's certainly something I'd like to look at."