Sir Bradley Wiggins believes Geraint Thomas may be “Wales’ biggest sports star” following his Tour de France success, and has tipped him to retain his title.
Cardiff-born Thomas won the event by one minute and 51 seconds after Sunday’s 116km final stage which finished in Paris.
The 32-year-old became the third Briton to win the Tour following Wiggins, who triumphed in 2012, and Team Sky teammate Chris Froome, who won four of the previous five races.
Wiggins expects Thomas’ profile to increase significantly on the back of his victory.
“A lot of people win things like this and they get caught up in the moment and don’t realise what they’ve achieved.
"But with Geraint, he’s watched the Tour since he was a kid and to him he knows what it is, I don’t think he ever imagined this would happen,” said Wiggins on Eurosport.
“He’ll feel the same inside, but people’s perception of him will change, everything will be different from now on.
“Buying a pint of milk will be different for him now. He was well known in the cycling world, but the difference is now the general public will know him.
“He won’t be able to walk down the street in Wales now without people coming up to him. I think he may now be Wales’ biggest sports star.”
Wiggins was also aged 32 when he won the Tour six years ago.
He feels Thomas is entering his prime and in a strong position to retain the yellow jersey in 2019.
“He’s at that ripe age now, 32, he’s matured as a person and an athlete and his laid back approach will continue to carry him through,” added Wiggins.
“This success won’t change him at all and I wouldn’t put it past him to win again next year.
“This could be the start for him now, he’s won the Tour and it will only drive him on to do it again.”
Team Sky faced a backlash from some of the French public during the Tour, stemming from their recent dominance of the sport and an anti-doping investigation into Froome, which was dropped in early July.
Riders were booed and spat at by spectators, while Froome was pushed by a spectator on Alpe d’Huez.
Wiggins, who also raced for Sky, thinks the hostile reception may have provided extra motivation.
“I think for Sky it spurred them on, there was a definite unity with them,” he added.
“This isn’t the first time they’ve had this, they’ve had it for a few years now.
“Sky work the hardest as a team. Tour de France is the highlight of their season.
“It’s not fair for them to be accused of being too dominant. Yes, they have big budgets and some teams can’t compete with that, but you can’t blame that on them.
“You can’t blame Sky coming in and putting money into the sport.”