Tales from the Tour: The Tour’s last words

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Chris Froome is twiddling his phone, poking buttons, scrolling aimlessly. He looks up at a crowd of faces turned away from him and looks around then looks back down again. Pokes some more buttons, just to kill time.

The phone is wrapped in a black and white Team Sky cover and he’s wrapped in a normal black and white Team Sky kit, sitting on a white plastic chair in a blank white corner of a large gymnasium otherwise quite heavy on the color yellow.

Geraint Thomas is sitting, waiting, twenty feet away. He’s behind a table and in front of a yellow sheet peppered with sponsor logos. He looks dazed. Like he’s processing. A human version of that little wheel that spins when your computer is broken. It’s the winner’s press conference, and he’s the winner. He’s the winner? He is. Just look at all the yellow. Reporters take their seats in three long rows in front of him and cameras swivel at his face. He picks up the microphone in front of him and lets out a visible, audible sigh. And the final press conference begins.

If you’d asked either of these men what this particular moment would look like three weeks ago they’d have told you the man in yellow would be where the white is, in the corner, and the man in white would be where the yellow is, on the little stage. They both seem a little stunned that this is not the case.

“It’s insane,” Thomas says.

“It’s so surreal.”

“It’s emotional.”

“I just want to enjoy this,” he says.

Froome is still sitting there, off to the side.

How odd must it feel to sit in that corner? The four-time champion, just twiddling. All the faces turned toward another; the yellow on another. Sitting on your phone, scrolling through Instagram or something, just waiting for the winner’s press conference to be over so the rest of the podium can get its chance at the mic. And then when it is your chance, half of the press corps stands up and walks back to their desks, laptops in hand, to begin furiously typing tomorrow’s stories about someone else. You stare out at three rows of half-empty chairs and the first question you get is do you have any regrets?

“No, none at all,” Froome says. “Not only have I been a teammate of G over the last ten years, we’re good friends over the last 10 years. We train together a lot.”

This is him making sure we know they like each other.

“To see him come here now, in the shape that he was in, it was clear to me that if he was going to be on the podium he was going to be on that top step,” he says.

This is him making sure we know Thomas deserves it.

“He’s managed to do it and that makes me really proud.”

I swear his voice is cracking a little bit. It’s definitely wavering, at least, though it’s tough to say why.

The second point there is an important one. That Thomas deserves this. There is this odd sense that he sort of tricked everyone; that our collective underestimation of him is what opened to the door to victory, rather than his own strength. That maybe Froome gave it to him, or he won because Dumoulin was tired, or because he just didn’t fall down as much as everyone else.

Tom Dumoulin was on the stage before. He was brilliant, as always. Humble. Happy with second, and seemingly genuinely so. “Genuinely happy with my second place,” he said. “If somebody told me before the Tour de France that after the Giro I would win a stage and be on the podium again I would immediately sign for it.” Happy for Thomas, too. “He was never put in trouble by anyone, including me,” he said.

The strongest man won.

I wonder if that’s why Froome is twiddling so hard. There’s a question sent to Thomas about halfway through. It’s the obvious question, and also unanswerable: So, who’s the real leader in 2019? Would you leave Sky? Froome looks up from his phone, looks over at the reporter who asked. He smiles a little smile. Shakes his head, just a bit.

“I just want to enjoy this, man,” Thomas says. And Froome goes back to twiddling.

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