Wales

Tour de France: Geraint Thomas's PE teacher hopes for win

Steve Williams
Image caption Geraint Thomas's former PE teacher Steve Williams said he was a "gentleman".

A PE teacher whose former pupils include a world class footballer and rugby player is now hoping to add Tour de France winner to his list.

As Geraint Thomas aims to seal victory in the penultimate stage of the French race, his former teacher Steve Williams will be watching from his Cardiff home.

Mr Williams taught Thomas as well as footballer Gareth Bale and rugby international Sam Warburton when they were pupils at Whitchurch High School.

Thomas leads by more than two minutes.

The penultimate stage sees the Welshman wearing the yellow jersey. The ninth time he has worn it in this Tour.

His old PE master, affectionately known as 'Grumpy', is backing Thomas to win.

"I think that sort of character - who has a lot of inner strength - will be coping pretty well," he said.

Image caption Whitchurch High has become a renowned producer of professional Welsh sports stars.

On Friday, Thomas put in an impressive sprint finish to extend his lead over nearest rival Tom Dumoulin by six seconds.

Saturday's Stage 20 - a 31km (19-mile) individual time trial from Saint-Pee-sur-Nivelle to Espelette - will be the penultimate stage before the riders arrive in Paris on Sunday.

The final stage is all but ceremonial for the cyclist wearing the yellow jersey and it is customary for the peloton to let him enter the Champs-Elysées section of the stage in first place.

Whitchurch High boasts an extraordinary list of successful athletes among its alumni.

Real Madrid's four-time Champions League-winning winger Gareth Bale and unbeaten British and Irish Lions captain Sam Warburton are among those.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Geraint Thomas wears the jersey on Friday's stage of the Tour de France

Mr Williams embodies the school's sporting spirit - he studied at the old Grammar School in 1960 and left in 1967, only to return as a teacher in 1975.

He has been at the school ever since and despite hanging up his whistle as teacher of PE, he is now the school's estates director and still finds the time to coach the first XV.

"Even on a world scene, is there anywhere else you can talk about this sort of level?" asked Mr Williams.

Image caption Steve Williams has trained countless international athletes since he started teaching at the school in 1970

"We certainly don't have any special water well. All we can do here is provide the environment and the encouragement."

Mr Williams described the schoolboy Thomas as an athlete with a "competitive edge" in all sports and a "cheeky chappy" out of the saddle.

"He had to decide what he wanted to do and he stuck with cycling, even though he could have gone on and become a very, very good rugby player," he said.

"He had a very dry sense of humour and I know he wrote in the back of his book about me: 'I'm awfully glad Mr Williams didn't make me play in the rugby team when I came to the sixth-form'."

Image copyright Gareth Enticott
Image caption Taste for success: Geraint Thomas "progressed suddenly" at the age of 14, his former coach said.

Since his school days, Geraint has already become a triple World Champion, double Olympic gold medallist and Commonwealth gold medallist.

But the Tour de France is the pinnacle of professional cycling, and Thomas will surely be feeling the pressure.

"A cool character," Mr Williams replied when asked to briefly describe his former pupil.

"If you look at the number of times he has been injured - in the Tour, when he had a ruptured spleen, Geraint just dusted himself down, got on with it and went back, never too much fuss.

"I think that sort of character - who has a lot of inner strength - will be coping pretty well."

Image caption Geraint Thomas is a "cool character", his former PE teacher said.

And in the school sports hall, separate to the 'hall of fame' corridor in the main building, Mr Williams has hung the signed jerseys of the school's most successful alumni.

"We hope to see you soon," Mr Williams, stood next to an empty bit of wall alongside a signed Bale shirt, said in a personal message to his former pupil.

"Best of luck, I'm sure you are going to win this one and I can come on in and put the jersey up in this space here."

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