Thomas wins in yellow on Alpe d’Huez and distances Froome |

Thomas wins in yellow on Alpe d’Huez and distances Froome

Britain's Geraint Thomas, wearing the overall leader's yellow jersey celebrates as he crosses the finish line to win the twelfth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 175.5 kilometers (109 miles) with start in Bourg-Saint-Maurice Les Arcs and Alpe d'Huez, France, Thursday, July 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena )

ALPE D’HUEZ, France — Geraint Thomas sprinted away from Sky teammate Chris Froome to win the legendary climb up Alpe d’Huez while wearing the yellow jersey in the Tour de France on Thursday.

With questions over which rider Sky is backing for victory, it was a bold demonstration of strength by Thomas, who has been Froome’s loyal lieutenant for years.

“In my eyes Froomey is still our leader,” Thomas said. “I’m just going to enjoy it now.”

Thomas took yellow with a victory a day earlier. Now he has become the first British rider to win atop Huez and the first of any nationality to win here in the yellow jersey.

Lance Armstrong won an individual time trial up Huez in 2004 while wearing yellow but that victory was later stripped for doping.

“Unbelievable. Not in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would win up here,” Thomas said. “It’s one of those things that’s going to stay with me for the rest of my life.”

Tom Dumoulin crossed second, two seconds behind, and Romain Bardet was third, three seconds back.

Froome finished fourth, four seconds behind Thomas, as the 12th stage concluded with the famed 21 serpentine bends to the Huez ski resort.

Thomas extended his lead over Froome in the overall standings to 1 minute, 39 seconds. He’ll likely hold on to the yellow jersey for at least several more days as the Tour returns to flatter roads for Stages 12 and 13 before the climbs resume in the Massif Central and the Pyrenees.

Dumoulin was third overall, 1:50 behind.

Vincenzo Nibali recovered from a crash in the final kilometers to finish seventh in the stage. The Italian was fourth overall, 2:37 back.

The last and most feared of the three stages in the Alps this year, the 175.5-kilometer (109-mile) leg began in Bourg-Saint-Maurice and took the peloton over three grueling, beyond-category climbs.

Fans lined every corner of the climb to Huez, many of them amateur cyclists who tested their legs on the ascent a few hours before the professionals, while others had camped out for days.

The rowdiest fans, as usual, were on the “Dutch corner” located two-thirds of the way up.

Riders had to navigate their way through smoke in a variety of colors — red, blue and orange — and several spectators who got in the way.

Before Huez, riders had already scaled the lengthy ascents to Col de la Madeleine and Col de la Croix-de-Fer (Pass of the Iron Cross) plus the shorter but spectacular Lacets de Montvernier — a miniature Huez featuring a photogenic series of 18 switchbacks.

Part of an early breakaway group, Dutch rider Steven Kruijswijk launched a solo attack up the Col de la Croix-de-Fer and crossed the summit above the tree-line with a six-minute lead over the peloton. But he was caught by Froome on the way up to Huez with 3.5 kilometers remaining.

Froome had attacked with four kilometers to go but couldn’t quite drop Thomas, Dumoulin and Bardet.

Thomas and Froome were whistled and booed by the crowd at the finish. Attitudes toward Sky soured when Froome was involved in an asthma drug case stemming from last year’s Spanish Vuelta — even though he was cleared of wrongdoing the week before the Tour.

“Obviously it’s not nice,” Thomas said. “But at the same time, whatever. If that’s what they think, that’s what they think. But just boo, be vocal, but don’t affect the race.”

Froome is attempting to match the record of five Tour victories shared by Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain

Rigoberto Uran, last year’s runner-up, withdrew before the stage began, having failed to recover from a crash on the cobblestones in Stage 9.

The mountainous route was a nightmare for muscular sprinters. Fernando Gaviria and Dylan Groenewegen, who each won two stages each in this year’s race, but withdrew midway through, as did Andre Greipel.

The three-week race ends July 29 in Paris.

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