NEWLY-CROWNED Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas is likely to receive a rapturous welcome as he makes his first competitive appearance in his home country since securing the yellow jersey in Paris five weeks ago. The Welshman is the star attraction in one of the strongest Tour of Britain fields in recent times, with four-time Tour winner Chris Froome also in the starting line-up.

The race began in Glasgow last year but the 2018 version does not venture into Scotland. Stage one begins today in Pembrey Country Park in the south-west of Wales, with the riders negotiating 175km of rolling hills to the finish in Newport. From there, the route takes the riders up through England before the final stage in London next Sunday.

In 2017, overall victory went to Dutchman Lars Boom, who rides for LottoNL-Jumbo, having held off Norway’s Edvald Boassen Hagen on the final stage. Boom will not be defending his title although there is no shortage of quality in the field.

In Team Sky colours, alongside Thomas and Froome, who will ride his first Tour of Britain since 2009, is Ian Stannard, who is a former Tour of Britain stage winner, as is Wout Poels. Others to watch out for are Alex Dowsett, Julian Alaphilippe, Primoz Roglic and Tejay van Garderen, as well as the sole Scot in the field, 19-year-old Joe Nally from Dunfermline, who will ride for GB.

However, Mark Cavendish will not be in action having announced last week that he is to take an indefinite break from cycling after the Epstein-Barr virus was found in his system.

Tour winner Thomas has been a regular at the Tour of Britain in recent years, with his best finish a sixth place in 2009. He is, clearly, a much improved rider but the 32-year-old has played down expectations ahead of this week’s race. However, he admits he cannot wait to ride in front of his home crowd, particularly with stage one beginning in Wales.

“As soon as I’d finished the Tour I knew I wanted to ride the Tour of Britain and race on home roads,” he said. “I want to go to the race in the shape to compete and enjoy it. I’m looking forward to it and I know we will have a strong team there.”