ESPELETTE (France) • Geraint Thomas remembers the first time he heard about Chris Froome. Tuscany 2006, when he was part of a British Under-23 squad. They had all heard about this talented white kid from South Africa racing for a UCI development team based in Switzerland.
Thomas would later learn Froome was from Kenya and had moved to South Africa in his teens.
They liked each other from the start. In Froome, Thomas saw innocence, fierce determination and huge talent. When they reunited at Team Sky, they did so as friends and after Froome established himself as team leader, Thomas was happy to be one of his lieutenants.
"G", as he liked to be called, has always been a naturally generous character. He was part of the British track pursuit team that won Olympic gold in 2008 and 2012 but it also restricted his progress as a road racer and he settled for being one of Froome's go-to men.
Something changed late last year when Thomas realised that a career spent in service was likely to leave him unfulfilled. He had been the team's leader at last year's Giro d'Italia, only to lose his chance in a crash that cost him five minutes.
Last autumn Froome announced he would race this year's Giro d'Italia and Tour de France. That hit Thomas hard. He had hoped for another shot at the Giro but it was not going to happen. Unusually for a Sky rider, he publicly revealed interest in moving to another team.
ACKNOWLEDGING THE G-FORCE
Not only have I been a team-mate of G, but also a friend... If he was going to be on the podium, he was going to be on the top step.
CHRIS FROOME, four-time Tour de France winner, on his Sky team-mate.
Sky were determined not to let Thomas go. His talent, resilience and easy-to-like nature made him one of the team's most important riders. Team Sky chief Dave Brailsford has seen Thomas go from being dropped every day on his maiden Tour, when he was the youngest to start in 2007, to conquering the race 11 years later.
"He spent most of the Tour in 2007 riding behind the peloton, dropped," said Brailsford. "But despite struggling most of the way through, he still finished it. Now, he's being repaid for all the years of hard work and sacrifice he has made for the team."
Thomas is the latest product of the Whitchurch High School in Cardiff - alongside former Wales and Lions rugby captain Sam Warburton, and Real Madrid football star Gareth Bale - to find international sports success.
"We're a small nation and we really get behind anyone who's successful," said Thomas after Saturday's race, the penultimate stage time trial where he was surprised by his wife Sara.
He wept, saying: "I didn't know my wife was here either, which made it even worse. The last time I cried is when I got married."
One of the most important moments this year came in the first stage, when Froome crashed near the end and lost 51 seconds.
On every other Tour, Thomas would have waited. Not this time. From that point he rode the most brilliant Tour, tactically astute but also sensitive to Froome's situation.
In winning the second Alpine stage at the summit of La Rosiere, Thomas attacked just as Froome was about to rejoin their small breakaway group. It was his way of saying he was there to win and if that meant aggressively chasing the yellow jersey, he would do it.
Said Froome: "Not only have I been a team-mate of G, but also a friend. He's been a massive part of my Tour victories. If he was going to be on the podium, he was going to be on the top step."
Team Sky had won their sixth Tour - not with the rider they expected, but rather with the strongest one.
THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE