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After escaping with compatriot Alexis Gougeard (B&B Hotels-KTM) on roads local to him, he was the last man standing, holding out until 400 meters to go, when he was swept up by the peloton in the streets of Carcassonne.
“I was going so all out that I didn’t think [of raising my arms],” he said at the finish. “I was giving everything I could. I looked at the kilometer-to-go markers ticking down: four, three, two.”
“At the flamme rouge, I closed my eyes and went all out. Unfortunately, when I saw the peloton coming behind, it all came to nothing. It’s cruel, but I believed [we could make it].”
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Their attack went a bit earlier than he had expected, on the Côte des Camminges, 48 kilometers from the finish. “I wanted to get the points for the King of the Mountains competition to protect Simon [Geschke]’s jersey. Alexis Gougeard was with me and I said ‘why not?’”
“I knew the finale off by heart: there was a downhill bit, with a headwind, but then it got behind you at the end, so it was perfect for giving it a go. I didn’t miss it by much today.
“In the finale, I found myself all alone [after Gougeard was dropped], so it was a bit long!”
26-year-old Thomas has a decorated track background; he is reigning world champion in the points race and won Olympic Madison bronze in Tokyo.
The Cofidis rider is making his debut in the sport’s blue riband event after an impressive season, which includes a stage win and the overall at both the Étoile de Bessèges and the Boucles de la Mayenne.
Hailing from nearby Lavaur in the Tarn region, which stage 15 passed through, Thomas had a lot of support. “In the last 40 kilometers, it spurred me on. Thanks to everyone who cheered me on from the roadside,” he said.
Ultimately, as stage winner Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) and his rivals swept past, it was 400 meters too long for Thomas and Cofidis, who hasn’t won a Tour de France stage since 2008.
The Frenchman spoke of seeing stars at the finish from his all-out effort; the disappointment may sink in later.
“I’’m really dead right now,” he said. “I know it’s the Tour de France and I think this evening, I’ll realise that it wasn’t far off at all. But I’ve no regrets because I really gave everything.”