By Reece Chambers
Geraint Thomas is ranked amongst the most successful Welsh athletes of all time after his Tour de France win earlier this year.
Thomas joins the likes of Sam Warburton and Joe Calzaghe as one of the highest ranking sporting achievements in Welsh history. The prestigious title was confirmed to be coming home to Cardiff back in July, but it might only be recently that Thomas and his network of friends and family have started to appreciate the scale of his success.
As a 23-day race with 21 stages in the highest peaks of France, the Tour de France is the ultimate endurance test in cycling. Thomas made his debut in the Tour de France back in 2007 and has since cemented a place as an established rider for Team Sky.
As well as his recent Tour de France victory, Thomas boasts two Olympic medals, five Cycling World Championships medals and two Commonwealth Games medals.
The Cardiff-born cyclist started his career just a stone’s throw from Cardiff University, at Maindy Cycling Club. Right at the beginning of Maindy Flyers back in 1995, Thomas was one of the first faces through the door as a 9-year-old.
Founder of the local club, Debbie Wharton has paid tribute to Thomas’ ‘unbelievable’ Tour de France victory in the summer.
As a key figure in Thomas’ progression through youth cycling, Wharton has played an immense part in giving Thomas the opportunity to kick-start his cycling development. And, even after months of trying to come to terms with the victory, Wharton still can’t quite believe Thomas claimed the iconic yellow jersey.
“It’s just unbelievable, it seems so surreal. The little boy who came along to have a go at cycling one day has now won the Tour de France,” said Wharton.
However, despite Thomas’ famous victory in one of sport’s most gruelling competitions, Wharton has stated that it wasn’t clear he would go on to achieve such a feat.
“Obviously he showed talent and quickly got to grips with cycling and did win races from an early age, but it wasn’t clear that he was destined for the top level.
Once he finished a national championship circuit race in 6th – but he started his sprint at the back of the bunch because he didn’t like riding in the bunch. So there were always things that he needed to learn,” said Wharton of Thomas.
With natural ability that didn’t indicate reaching the heights of the Tour de France’s yellow jersey, Wharton believes that Thomas’ ‘dedication, commitment, focus and determination’ pushed him to the upper echelons of international cycling.
At Maindy Cycling Club, Thomas’ victory has been greatly received by those who know him best.
“Geraint is a true hero. He is a fantastic role model for the sport. He has been to Maindy to meet the kids, along with his Team Sky teammates. There aren’t a lot of sports where you get the opportunity to meet your real hero up close and in the flesh,” said Wharton.
As a Cardiff-born athlete, this is a story that will resonate with many people in Cardiff. For the most part, cycling is a sport that doesn’t receive the coverage of football and rugby union. However, Thomas’ rise to the peak of international cycling is one that deserves considerable recognition.