Forget Jonas Vingegaard’s duel with Tadej Pogačar, or Wout van Aert’s stab at world domination, the real – and most impressive – story of this year’s Tour de France belongs to an item of clothing that shouldn’t have even made it to the start line.
I am of course talking about the gilet.
Geraint Thomas’ Tour may have finished with a podium place – the third of the 36-year-old’s career – that certainly confounded most pre-Tour expectations, but the Welshman’s race started over three weeks ago in far less auspicious circumstances.
As the Ineos Grenadiers rider tackled the first few kilometres of the Tour’s opening time trial in cold and rainy Copenhagen, he glanced down in horror to find that he was still wearing his pre-TT body warmer.
“We're in a team that spends hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, on aerodynamics?” Thomas’ teammate Luke Rowe said after the stage on the pair’s Watts Occurring podcast.
“And on the biggest stage, biggest race, Geraint goes to the start line a bit chilly, so he sticks his nice warm gilet on. Not the most aerodynamic bit of kit, but you were nice and warm, weren't you?”
As Thomas took to the start ramp, the rider – as well as a team soigneur and mechanic – all failed to notice that the 2018 Tour winner was a tad overdressed for the occasion.
“The legs were good, it's just a shame about the start of it,” he told Matt Stephens at the finish. “And that bl-, that blinking gilet.
“Because I zipped it up, it was all nice and snug, I totally forgot I had it on. And nobody spotted it either at the start.
“Ugh, that was cracking me a bit as well. I did think about taking it off, but that would have been a bit dodgy. It's one of them... but the main thing is that the legs were good.”
> Tour de France Gilet-gate: Geraint Thomas explains how he forgot to ditch body warmer for Copenhagen TT
Though naturally frustrated at the time, the former Olympic champion quickly decided to make the most of his mishap by setting a challenge: for the infamous gilet to be passed on stage by stage by a different fan, until it finally reached Paris after three weeks on the road.
Thomas then said that, once the gilet made it all the way to stage 21, he would auction it off in aid of his Cycling Trust, which aims to break down barriers that prevent young people from taking part in cycling through funding and support programmes.
Much like the Welshman’s GC tilt, the challenge has proved a resounding success.
“Against all the odds I’m assured the gilet is making it to Paris,” he tweeted this morning. “Thanks to the crew at GCN for doing the final leg and to everyone who’s got it round France. It’s kept me amused on the massage table every night.
“Now I’m hoping we can do some good with it. We’ve set up a raffle for the gilet in aid of the Geraint Thomas Cycling Trust, which simply aims to help more children access and enjoy cycling across Wales and the UK.
“One lucky winner will get to keep the gilet (maybe give it a wash) and hopefully we can help lots of kids get better access to riding bikes.”
However, as we’re all being treated to an additional week of racing this July thanks to the relaunched Tour de France Femmes, EF Education-TIBCO-SVB’s Lizzy Banks reckoned it was only fair that the gilet took in the much-anticipated women’s race.
“So, Geraint Thomas, your gilet has been having such a great time, so why not try to get it to the real end of this race?” Banks tweeted. “The top of La Super Planche de Belle Filles where the Tour de France Femmes will finish and get it signed by the winner of the other TdF!”
“Well I guess it’s made it this far… one more week won’t hurt,” an enthusiastic Thomas replied.
“Love the idea. Shall we get the gilet round Tour de France Femmes?”
Looks like the ‘G-lay relay’ is on.
While a very un-Ineos-like oversight sparked the gilet’s own unique Tour de France, this morning the British team seemingly decided to bookend their race with yet another organisational mishap. Ahead of today’s final stage in Paris, and with the riders’ lunch AWOL, Thomas, Pidcock and co. feasted upon a very different kind of marginal gain:
They can't block the road as vehicles loading/off-loading are allowed to use the road at all times.
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