LARUNS, France (Reuters) - Team Sky’s domination of the Tour de France in recent years has been the result of hard work and will stand the test of time, yellow jersey holder Geraint Thomas said on Friday.
The Welshman is set to claim his maiden Tour title on Sunday, after extending his overall lead in Friday’s 19th stage, and hand Team Sky a sixth triumph in seven years since Bradley Wiggins became the first Briton to win the race in 2012.
But questions have been raised by the media and politicians about the British outfit’s methods after controversies involving Wiggins and four-time Tour champion Chris Froome, who slipped to fourth overall in the defense of his title on Friday.
Wiggins had to defend himself after accusations in a British parliamentary committee report in March that Team Sky crossed an “ethical line” by using permitted medication to enhance his performance. Team Sky strongly refuted the claim.
Wiggins was also involved in the ‘jiffy bag’ scandal in which British Cycling and Team Sky Doctor Richard Freeman received a package on his behalf at the 2011 Criterium du Dauphine race in France, the contents being a source of speculation. Sky said the package contained a ‘flu treatment.
Froome, meanwhile, tested positive for excessive levels of the asthma drug ‘Salbutamol’ during last year’s Vuelta and was only cleared of any wrongdoing by the sport’s governing body, the UCI, days before this year’s Tour started.
His participation in the race has triggered aggressive reactions from the French crowds. Froome was slapped on the shoulder by a spectator and both he and Thomas have been repeatedly booed on and off the road.
Asked about the controversy that has surrounded Team Sky, Thomas told reporters on Friday: “What can you say? I do it the right way. The team does it the right way.
“We train super hard. There is nothing I can do to prove it but it will stand the test of time,” he added after finishing second in the 200.5-km trek from Lourdes.
“The team here is super strong. We have myself, Froomey, Egan Bernal, the brightest talent in a long time, Luke Rowe, who is super strong in the classics. The team is just phenomenally strong.
“It is not just having good legs but good heads. There is nothing more to say. I work super hard and I’ve had some bad luck, but it’s nice to know that it is paying off.”
Thomas has rarely had to attack on this Tour, being perfectly protected by his team, especially 21-year-old Colombian Bernal, who has already been widely tipped as a potential Tour champion.
Thomas attacked twice and each time he won the stage, on the climb to La Rosiere and to the iconic Alpe d’Huez, while Froome had to concede defeat as he seemed to run out of gas after winning this year’s Giro d’Italia.
No rider has achieved the Giro-Tour double since Italian great Marco Pantani in 1998.
On Friday, Thomas made sure he did not lose sight of his closest rival Dutchman Tom Dumoulin, who is two minutes and five seconds behind in second place overall, notably in a tricky descent from the Col d’Aubisque.
“It was a quite a fast descent so it was nice to get through that in one piece,” the Welshman said.
“I knew all I had to do was follow Tom Dumoulin as I knew he’d be chasing (stage winner Primoz) Roglic (now third overall). It was all under control and the guys rode really well.
“(Team Sky Sports Director) Nico(las Portal) was really good on the radio and kept us calm. I’m really happy to tick that off.
“It’s obviously getting closer. One more day and I need to do a good TT (time trial) now. I’ve got a nice advantage but I’ve still got to be on the ball. It’s never comfortable.”
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ken Ferris