Tour de France: Geraint Thomas ready for battle to lead Team Ineos

By Dafydd PritchardBBC Sport Wales
Geraint Thomas says it would be "nice to continue" being team-mates with Chris Froome

Geraint Thomas was meant to be preparing for Saturday's opening stage of the Tour de France, the start of a gruelling three-week crusade to reclaim the title he won in 2018.

But now cycling's most prestigious race has been postponed until late August, Thomas and his Team Ineos colleagues are adapting to their new reality at a training camp near Nice.

In some respects, the life of an elite cyclist has not changed too drastically.

"Lockdown is kind of how we live our lives anyway in a sad way," Thomas tells BBC Sport Wales.

"When we're training, we train on the road, we go home, we eat, we rest, we sleep and we do it again."

And while social distancing and other coronavirus-related measures have altered their working environment, the essence of Team Ineos remains.

Whether the Grand Tour season is in full swing or a global pandemic has put cycling on hold for three months, the sport's rumour mill is dominated by speculation about Ineos' leadership.

The expensively assembled ensemble, formerly known as Team Sky, have produced seven of the Tour's past eight champions, with Chris Froome claiming four of those victories.

His most recent was back in 2017, with Thomas triumphant in 2018 and Colombian prodigy Egan Bernal winning last year's edition with Thomas in second place.

Froome missed that race after severely injuring himself in a crash but he is fit again now and ready to reclaim his crown, which poses an interesting - and familiar question - about who will lead Ineos at this year's Tour.

"For me, it's the same as always," says Thomas. "Try to get there in the best shape possible and, if one of the boys is better than me, then that's the job we're in and you do what you and you've got to help them - and vice versa.

"That's going to start up again and it's been bubbling away for the last few months anyway - contracts, this and that, who's going where and team dynamics and stuff. Hopefully, once we start racing, we can forget about everything else."

'The road will decide again'

Chris Froome (left) and Egan Bernal (right) with Geraint Thomas at the 2018 Tour de France
Chris Froome (left) and Egan Bernal (right) helped Geraint Thomas win the 2018 Tour de France

Thomas faced similar questions before last year's Tour, when he and Bernal were named Ineos' joint leaders, even though the Welshman was the defending champion and his then 22-year-old colleague was only competing in his second Tour.

Regardless of that gulf in experience, Thomas' motto was "the road will decide", that each rider would get a chance to prove his worth and earn the support of his teammates.

Froome eventually ceded to Thomas in 2018, and Thomas had to do the same for Bernal a year later.

Even with three champions vying for the leadership this time, Thomas believes that meritocracy will stay intact.

"I think everyone will get their fair chance because I think everyone can have a bad day and that doesn't mean their Tour is suddenly over," the 34-year-old says.

"We've done it many times now in the Tour. Not the best example but the first time was Brad [Wiggins] and Froomey [in 2012] and it could have been managed better - there was a bit of a fall-out there as we all know.

"But after that we've been able to do what's needed and we've all been professional about it. I'm confident that can continue to happen."

Froome's future has been under scrutiny during cycling's months of competitive inaction, with Israel Start-Up Nation reportedly leading the list of teams hoping to prise him away from Ineos.

Thomas was similarly sought-after following his Tour victory in 2018 and, while he can dismiss the transfer chatter as background noise, he would rather Froome stay.

"It does affect me indirectly but, at the same time, I'm not sat in bed at night thinking about that," Thomas adds.

"I've been a team-mate of his since 2008 so obviously it would be nice to continue that. We get on well, we work well with each other, we're honest with each other - brutally honest sometimes.

"But what will be will be and I just leave that to him, and just worry about going up the next hill as quick as I can.

"To see him riding his bike and doing efforts is really good to see because it was a horrendous crash he had. It's great to see him back."

Whoever it is leading Ineos at the Tour, this race will be unrecognisable from previous editions as cycling enters its post-coronavirus era.

It remains to be seen whether or not spectators will be allowed to attend, while the riders will need to apply their new socially distanced training methods to competitive racing.

"It's strange," Thomas says. "I don't know what the plan is but maybe the start and finish areas will be completely different.

"I'm not sure how it's all going to work. Fans on the side of the road - I don't know how you police that.

"It would be a shame if we're racing up those climbs without the normal frenzy and colours and noises and smells. That's part of the Tour - that's what makes it special.

"The Tour is still the main goal for me. The Criterium du Dauphine, which is the traditional build-up race to it, is on as well.

"It's only five days instead of eight and it's a bit closer to the Tour. We've got a three-day stage race before then which finishes with the same stage finish as the Tour, which is good.

"We'll have two days off, then the Dauphine, a few more recons, a week off at home and then the Tour.

"So suddenly it will be boom and we're back in it. I'm really looking forward to that."

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