Team Sky's Geraint Thomas has told Cyclingnews he is preparing for this summer's Tour de France as if he is the leader of the squad.
The Welshman, speaking at the recent Volta ao Algarve, also said that there are teams he would consider leaving Team Sky for at the end of the year, and that the ethics of the anti-doping code are as important to him as the letter of the law.
Thomas is set to target the Tour de France this summer but his role within Team Sky's Tour squad is still uncertain. Four-time winner and defending champion, Chris Froome, is still fighting to clear his name after a positive test for salbutamol at the Vuelta a España last year. No time frame for the case's resolution has been publicly outlined, but Froome could end up missing the Tour de France.
That would leave Thomas as Team Sky's main GC hope, though Froome could still be cleared or continue racing only for a decision on the case to be made after the race.
Either way, Thomas is remaining focused on his training.
"When I was going through plans with Tim [Kerrison] and Dave [Brailsford] we said that we'd treat it as if I was the leader for the Tour and that I'd do everything I could to be in my best shape there," Thomas said.
"Mentally I'll be ready to do the best I can overall, and if Froome is there then I'd still like to stay up in GC as long as I can. That first week, especially with the wind and the cobbles, so much can happen. I think it's good to have two guys."
While Froome and Team Sky have been criticised for the decision to enter the rider at last week's Ruta del Sol, Thomas has quietly gone about his business and picked up a stage win and second overall in Algarve. He lost the overall lead on the last day to teammate Michal Kwiatkowski but admitted that the pressure placed on Team Sky after Froome's positive has not affected him personally.
"We're in the spotlight all the time, and I think it just feels like it's then intensified a lot more. That's what it feels like. When it's not me personally then it's a bit concerning, and it's not good to see or hear about it, but the older I get the more I just go into my own bubble," he said.
"I used to laugh at Steve Cummings but I'm turning more and more into him. I just like to do my own thing. Maybe I'm just getting old but I just want to be alone. It's a simpler life and I can just worry about myself. I know what training I have to do and I just get on with it."
In December when news of Froome's case broke, Thomas was one of the first Team Sky riders prepared to step forward and answer questions on the subject. In an interview with Cyclingnews at the time, he said that he had always respected the anti-doping laws that govern the sport, and that he had never applied for a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) during his professional career.
As a follow-up to that, Cyclingnews asked Thomas in the Algarve what was more important to him – the letter of the laws surrounding anti-doping, or the ethical side? One of the areas Team Sky have faced scrutiny over are the so-called grey areas of the sport, such as their use of TUEs with regards to Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome.
"It's definitely, obviously about the rules but it's also about the ethics. It's just the way that I've been brought up, to be honest," he said.
"It's just the way my mum and dad were. So why would you take something that you don't need? But it's both the laws and the ethics, I guess. Even if I had a TUE it's not a bad thing. It's because of all that's gone on that it's seen as a bad thing. That's wrong because if someone genuinely needs something then they should genuinely have it."
When asked if he would leave Team Sky in order to escape the level of scrutiny the team currently find themselves in, Thomas said: "It would be a lot simpler but it's not a reason for me to leave. I'd leave for different things, like guaranteed opportunities. I think that I've gotten used to it and let it go over my head. I just carry on in my bubble. I'm honest and answer the questions that I get asked."
Moving teams may well be something that Thomas will have to consider in the very near future. His current contract ends at Team Sky this year and, at 31, he has one last big contract in him. Other teams have shown interest in the past but Thomas has remained loyal to Team Sky. Whether he stays or goes could well depend on Froome.
"It depends on how long that drags on for. It would be good for everyone if that came to a conclusion. I've not really thought about it but it's getting to that time when I need to sit down."
He added that changing teams is "certainly something that's on my mind but, as I've said before, I don't want to go to any old team just to be the leader and then miss out on the support on and off the bike.
"It would have to be the right team, but there are certainly a couple out there that I would go to. I think we'll just have to see how that develops in the next couple of months or so. It's interesting times, and I just need to weigh up the positives and negatives of going."
Thomas' next outing will be at Tirreno-Adriatico in March. From there he will return to a training camp in Tenerife before two one-day Classics – Paris-Roubaix and Liège-Bastogne-Liège – then the Tour de Romandie, Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour de France.
The decision to race sparingly at the Classics is due to a tight training programme at altitude but Thomas will still line up at Paris-Roubaix as a key member of the team.
"I've done a varied programme the last few years. In the last couple of seasons, I've really wanted to try and knuckle down and concentrate on doing one thing, rather than doing lots of things at 80 to 90 per cent," he said.
"When we set out the goals for this season Tim Kerrison basically wanted me to be in Tenerife training from the end of Tirreno until Liège. That's a long block and I was thinking that maybe I could do Basque but that didn't really fit with the training. Then we looked at Roubaix. That works well with the Tour being on cobbles.
"I know I won't be in ideal form for Roubaix because I won't have that two-to-three minute power but if you have good legs, you have good legs."