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Undeterred by skeptical fans, Thomas takes Tour title

Tour de France winner Britain's Geraint Thomas, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey, and draped in the flag of Wales celebrates on the podium after the twenty-first stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 116 kilometers (72.1 miles) with start in Houilles and finish on Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris, France, Sunday July 29, 2018. (Stephane Mantey, pool via AP)

By ANDREW DAMPF and CIARAN FAHEY

Associated Press writers

PARIS (AP) The spits and the jeers. The eggs thrown at team cars. The attempts to unbalance riders while riding up the most grueling climbs.

Geraint Thomas never flinched at whatever fans - or his rivals - threw at him or Team Sky.

The Welsh rider was the steadiest rider from the start, the strongest in the Alps and the Pyrenees. On Sunday he concluded his transformation from a support rider into a champion of cycling's biggest race by claiming his first Tour de France title.

"With the boys, that's the main thing for the whole three weeks, we stuck together through some tough times, stayed strong," Thomas said. "Everything just clicked this race."

Thomas successfully defended his lead of 1 minute, 51 seconds over second-placed Tom Dumoulin in the mostly ceremonial final stage.

Four-time champion Chris Froome, Thomas's teammate, finished third, 2:24 behind. Froome rode next to Thomas as they crossed the line and applauded.

Thomas was a support rider during Froome's four victories but he emerged as Sky's strongest rider in this race when Froome crashed early on and couldn't keep up in the mountains.

Sky - and consequently Thomas - became a target for many fans due to an asthma drug case involving Froome, stemming from last year's Spanish Vuelta. Even though Froome was cleared of doping days before the start of the Tour, that didn't stop some fans from abusing the British team's riders throughout the three-week race.

"When there is negativity like that, it brings us as a team closer together," Froome said. "It feels like it's us against the rest of the world. ... You can choose to let it get to you or you can choose to let it motivate you, and we let it motivate us."

Thomas stormed into the lead by winning back-to-back mountain stages in the Alps, including the iconic climb up Alpe d'Huez, then defended his advantage in the Pyrenees.

During the podium ceremony, Thomas draped the flag of Wales over his shoulders, then ended his victory speech with a mic drop.

"All I can say is that I do it the right way," Thomas said when asked about concerns of alleged doping within Sky. "We train super hard and there's nothing I can say that will prove it. I've just got to keep doing what I'm doing. It will stand the test of time."

An all-around rider who began his career on the track, the 32-year-old Thomas helped Britain to gold medals in team pursuit at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics before turning his full attention to road racing.

"I have my own goals and I kept doing what I'm doing and kept focused on that. ... Obviously it's not nice to hear (the jeers) but I do what I do and focus on myself," Thomas said. "It's easy to get wrapped up in or get angry or depressed but I stay in my own world."

Riding a yellow bicycle to match his yellow jersey, Thomas shared glasses of champagne with his teammates during the casual ride into Paris before buckling down to keep up with the other leaders on the jarring cobblestones of the Champs-Elysees.

"It's going to take a while to sink in," Thomas said. "Normally that stage is really hard but today I just seemed to float around it. I had goose bumps going around there. The support from the Welsh, British flags. ... To ride around wearing this (yellow jersey) is a dream."

Norwegian rider Alexander Kristoff with UAE Team Emirates won the last stage in a sprint finish, narrowly beating John Degenkolb and Arnaud Demare.

"I've dreamed about this victory for many years," Kristoff said. "I've been close many times before but never managed to beat the faster guys like (Mark) Cavendish, (Andre) Greipel, or (Marcel) Kittel, but today they're not here, they're out after the mountains, and today I was the fastest, so I'm super happy."

The mostly flat 116-kilometer (72-mile) leg began in Houilles just outside Paris and concluded with nine laps up and down the Champs-Elysees.

Many spectators along the Champs-Elysees held their arms high to record the riders on their smart phones as they went past on the cobblestones, and there were more cheers when 11 jets flew overhead leaving trails in the blue, white and red colors of the French flag.

Street vendors sold chicken, sausages, waffles, cake and sweets, while the smell of crepes filled the air.

Glenn Roberts, from Newtown in mid-Wales, was in attendance with his wife and children. The family timed its summer vacation to coincide with the Tour's finish.

"Thomas was in the yellow when we left Wales but we didn't know if he was going to keep it. We thought Froome was going to win it, if I'm being honest," Roberts said. "It's the best thing a Welshman has ever done in sport."

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AP Sports Writer Samuel Petrequin contributed.

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Andrew Dampf on Twitter: www.twitter.com/asdampf

Updated July 29, 2018