Geraint Thomas earned his place in Tour de France folklore with an heroic ride on stage three today – albeit at the very back of the peloton.
The former track cycling world champion and double Olympic gold medalist may have set off in dead last place but it was the fact he was there at all which amazed those watching.
The Welshman was involved in a spectacular crash on the chaotic opening stage to Bastia and although x-rays on Saturday night came back clear, further scans last night found he had cracked his pelvis.
While the medical diagnosis changed, the pain levels did not and Thomas struggled to even get on his bike at the start in Ajaccio this morning, failing twice to get his leg over before being helped.
The Team Sky man rode on in great pain but made it to the end 177th on the day, nine minutes 15 seconds behind stage winner Simon Gerrans but good enough to lift him out of last place overall, if only by two places.
Despite the excruciating pain, there were no thoughts of joining Andrey Kashechkin and Yoann Bagot in pulling out of today’s stage.
“Yesterday was one of the worst days I’ve ever had on a bike,” said the 27-year-old from Cardiff.
“I’ve done so much to lose weight and get fit for this, I’m not going to give up straight away.”
That said, Thomas added he would not ride on for the sake of it if he does not feel any improvement.
“I’m not just here to do a lap of France,” he said.
Thomas has already had crashes at the Milan-San Remo, the Ronde van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix this season, but admitted his current pain levels are on a different level.
“I have never had this difficulty getting going at the start of a day before,” he said.
“I have done my pelvis before in a different place. That was right where I was sat on the saddle, this is a lot higher up.
“The experts have said I am not going to do any more damage by riding. It is just a matter of if it improves.”
Thomas had ears full of his Team Sky colleagues urging him on over the team radio today.
“He obviously wants to be here and be a part of this,” said team leader and Tour favourite Chris Froome. “For us, if he can survive through the next few days, it’s number one.
“He came up after 100km today, came up to the front of us, and said: ’Yeah, c’mon!’
“That made us all smile. He’s got fighting spirit. He is in pain but he’s really up for it and that really lifts us.”
What Thomas almost certainly will not be able to do is give Team Sky the sort of boost they were hoping for from him in tomorrow’s team time trial in Nice.
Team principal Sir Dave Brailsford admitted Thomas would be little more than a passenger, although that will not affect Team Sky’s results as the team is credited with the time of the fifth rider to cross the line.
That said, Brailsford was full of praise for Thomas’s efforts.
“We all have different tolerances to pain but the determination and level of suffering required to ride on a course like this, with its twists and turns where you can never get into any kind of rhythm, was really considerable,” he said.
“He suffered an awful, awful lot – he deserves every bit of recognition and support for his suffering.”
How much further he goes on the long, long road to Paris remains to be seen, but Thomas has already done enough to earn the respect of his team-mates and rivals, and none are ready to count him out.
“He’s Welsh,” Froome said. “He’ll survive.”