Geraint Thomas' Tour de France win the 'most popular' in years

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Image caption Geraint Thomas first rode in the Tour in 2007, when he finished 140th of the 141 finishers

Geraint Thomas' Tour de France win is the "most popular" in recent years, says former Olympic champion Chris Boardman.

The Team Sky rider from Cardiff became the first Welshman to win the race when he crossed the finish line in Paris on Sunday.

Thomas, 32, had previously supported Chris Froome and Sir Bradley Wiggins.

"He is somebody who has always laid it down for somebody else," Boardman told BBC Sport.

"There's nobody who's got a bad word to say about Geraint Thomas in the peloton, he's a very popular guy, both with the riders and with the public.

"It's the biggest annual sporting event in the world and to have a Welshman winning it just shows what can be done.

"It injects a level of pride… he's the ultimate role model."

Image caption 'It's just insane really' - Thomas reacts to Tour de France win

Thomas is no stranger to success having won two Olympic and three world team pursuit titles on the track between 2007 and 2012.

But Boardman, who was Olympic champion in 1992 and won three Tour stages and wore the yellow jersey, said Thomas' Tour victory is "without question the biggest thing he's ever done".

He said it was "years in the making" and built on a level of maturity.

"What we saw here wasn't just physical ability, we saw restraint, we saw somebody knowing 'I can attack here but I need to be careful, I need to not expose myself'," said Boardman.

"He had one slip on a corner in the final time trial when he was automatically going for the win and realised, 'no, this is about winning overall, I need to back off'."

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Image caption Geraint Thomas rode in support of Chris Froome in each of his four Tour wins

After the celebrations, what Thomas does next is "entirely up to him", said Boardman.

"He's in a team with a very strong leader in Chris Froome", he said.

"The fact that Chris Froome didn't win... remember he's just won the Giro and other grand tours just before that, so he'll remain the leader.

"So does Geraint Thomas want to be the leader of another team or does he want to go back into the service of Chris Froome?"

Boardman said it would not be impossible for Thomas to do that latter and that he should put his happiness first.

"I think I would forget the results and do what makes you happy and gives you a sense of satisfaction," he said.

"Crossing the line first, you're not always the happiest person. You carry the burden, you carry the responsibility.

"To be a team rider you do the best you can, you give it your all and that's all that's asked of you.

"They have very different journeys, one is a rider that can be there for many years, the other might have a short but very bright career."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Geraint Thomas won two stages in this year's Tour de France

Boardman added Thomas' win was also good for the Tour de France itself.

Froome had been a heavy favourite to become the fifth rider to win a record-equalling fifth Tour title.

He went into the race as defending champion and holder of all three Grand Tour titles, having won the Vuelta a Espana last September and the Giro d'Italia in May.

But his hopes ended in the Pyrenees mountains in the final week as Thomas proved the strongest rider.

"Thomas' win was a wonderful one because he had always been the underdog and working for somebody else," said Boardman.

"He gets his shot and he brings it home.

"The fact that he's a nice man is just the icing on the cake."