Geraint Thomas nears Grand Tour greatness after Paris-Nice win

By Steve JamesBBC Wales Sport
Geraint Thomas
Geraint Thomas followed victory in the Volta ao Algarve by winning the prestigious Paris-Nice race

Geraint Thomas has already won Olympic titles on the track, Commonwealth gold on the road, a one-day classic and a couple of lesser week-long tours.

His latest victory, Paris-Nice, puts him firmly in cycling's top drawer, and further enhances his claim as one of the very best of British.

Thomas' victory will go down as the second narrowest winning margin in the race's 86-year history. Davide Rebellin's 2008 triumph was by a mere three seconds, Thomas won by just four.

And it is the matchless drama of the way the Team Sky rider fought back for success when all looked lost that marks him out as one of the sport's 'tough guys', now as strong of mind as he always has been of legs.

Dropped on the final climb, watching a rider of Alberto Contador's class - one of only six men to have won all three Grand Tours - ride away from him and stretch out an overall lead would have cracked a weaker man.

It could certainly have elicited panic. Thomas succumbed to neither.

True, he was blessed to have a strong team alongside him, but limited his losses as best he could on the climb and was fearless on a descent whilst avoiding the crashes that have scuppered his hopes in previous editions.

Geraint Thomas (left) with Chris Froome
Geraint Thomas (left) played a pivotal role in Chris Froome's (right) 2015 Tour de France title

By the time he reached Les Promenade des Anglais it must have been like a pursuit from his track days. He could see Contador ahead of him.

When the Spaniard won his first Paris-Nice in 2007 he went on to secure his maiden Tour de France victory. Bradley Wiggins did the same in 2012.

That does not mean you should now expect Thomas to be wearing yellow on the Champs-Elysees at the end of July.

The third British rider to win the event is Tommy Simpson. His 1967 victory was followed a few months later by death on Mont Ventoux, chasing his elusive Tour de France dream.

Frenchman Laurent Jalabert won the early-season race from the wintry gloom of northern Europe to the early spring warmth of the Cote d'Azur three times, Ireland's Sean Kelly no fewer than seven.

Their undoubted talent brought plenty of success including Grand Tour victory, but not the big one.

Thomas, however, is showing an improvement year on year in multiple stage durability, high mountain climbing ability and all-discipline versatility.

He will once again be Chris Froome's chief lieutenant this summer, Team Sky's 'Plan B' for Le Tour.

But at 29, the Cardiff-born rider has got plenty of years to add more, and bigger and better successes to his palmares.

After Paris-Nice 2016 a few more people will believe that can include the Tour de France.

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