VAL THORENS, France — Before he started the defense of his Tour de France title, Geraint Thomas likened his win in 2018 to having a hit single.
Turns out the B-side was pretty good, too.
He'll be runner-up on the podium in Paris on Sunday. Not first. But like "Play With Fire" — the B-side to the Rolling Stones' "The Last Time" — not half-bad either.
Two factors came together to bar Thomas' route to back-to-back Tour titles.
The biggest obstacle was Egan Bernal, Thomas' teammate who introduced himself as a cycling superstar in the making by securing his first Tour title at just 22 — younger than Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain all were before they won the first of their five Tours each.
When the Tour's outcome came down to the final climbs in the high Alps in the last week, Bernal proved to be the stronger of the two teammates who started out as co-leaders at Ineos when the Tour roared off from Belgium on July 6.
The other spanner in Thomas' wheel was partly of his own making and part rotten luck. A crash at the Tour de Suisse in June disrupted his preparations for the Tour. Once the Tour started, Thomas quickly found himself on the back foot, with Ineos not controlling the racing set alight by French rider Julian Alaphilippe. Three crashes at the Tour also did nothing to help Thomas' cause.
"It's night and day between this year and last year. This year any little thing that could go wrong did go wrong, it felt like," the Welshman said Saturday after securing the runner-up spot on the final climb to the ski station of Val Thorens. "It was tough, but you know I had to stay positive, and stay focused and just keep fighting and that's what I did."
"It didn't quite happen for me," he said. "Last year, I didn't have one crash. I didn't have one puncture."
Sunday will mark the second time that the team, formerly Sky and now re-branded as Ineos, has monopolized the top two steps of the podium, following the duo of Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome in 2012.
Thomas, now 33, said he still believes he can win another Tour title, have another hit single.
"A lot of people probably don't," he said. "But whatever, that spurs me on."