L'ALPE D'HUEZ (France) • He sat at the back of a group of nine riders who climbed towards the village of Albiez Montrond. Ten minutes and 22 seconds down and falling, it was the 21st of 23 days and the first time in the Tour when Geraint Thomas was not where he wanted to be.
By the time he crossed the line at La Toussuire, his losses had climbed to 22 minutes and his place in the race had fallen from fourth to 15th. As is his way, he searched for the mask that would get him through the inquest.
He has gold medals from the Olympics and world track championships and, on his bad day, he gets a gold for self-deprecation.
It is not in his nature to speak with the same candour about the good rides. Chris Froome has been supported by a strong Sky squad and Thomas has been the outstanding equipier.
The first thing that needs to be understood about Thomas is that he is a very talented bike racer with a versatility that is extremely uncommon. He rode so well in the Pyrenees and on the Alpine stages to Pra Loup and St Jean de Maurienne that he discovered for a day what it is like to be accused as Froome has been, throughout.
To his team-mates, he is "G", something the doubters used to condemn him. "G," they said, "stands for George, as in George Hincapie" who for years was Lance Armstrong's most influential team-mate and who doped to help him do his job.
How could a former track racer climb mountains like Thomas had?
But the Welshman seems immune to slings and arrows.
"They loved us last year when we weren't doing well but I'd rather be booed and winning," he said.
Long before anyone showed up in Utrecht for the start of the Tour, Froome was convinced the race could be won and lost during a tough and potentially treacherous first week.
Sky's leader needed someone to mind and guide him, someone who could take him to wherever he needed to be at any point in the race.
Thomas did that job with astonishing skill, concentration and selflessness. This is a guy who was encouraged to qualify for the individual pursuit at the Beijing Olympics but refused because he feared it might compromise his contribution to the four-man pursuit team.
Now, for the second time, he has helped his team leader win the Tour de France. THE TIMES, LONDON