As Chris Froome dealt with ongoing questions about his salbutamol case during Team Sky’s pre-Tour de France press conference it was easy to lose sight of the other seven riders lined up next to him, not least Geraint Thomas, who sat with his cap tilted low and his gaze glued to the floor.
Once the slightly terse exchanges were over, however, the Welshman had the chance to have his own say, insisting that there’s more to Team Sky at this Tour de France than Froome.
“I’m feeling as ready as ever – better than I’ve ever felt at the start of the Tour,” he said.
That is reflected in Thomas’ recent results. He was a convincing winner of the Critérium du Dauphiné in June – a victory he described as the biggest of his career – and added the British time trial title last weekend.
Since his breakthrough ride at the 2015 Tour, Thomas has been exploring his potential as a Grand Tour contender and, after a first real leadership shot at last year’s Giro d’Italia was ended by a badly parked motorbike, this season has been built around these three weeks in July.
While Chris Froome has been engaged in differing battles – one to win the Giro d’Italia title and the other to clear his name – Thomas has had his head down, concentrating on the Tour in a steadier fashion.
“It’s good to finally – well hopefully – not get asked about it anymore – that’s a positive,” Thomas said of the salbutamol case. “Even before, it might sound hard to believe but it wasn’t affecting me. I just cracked on with my training, and did everything to be in the best shape coming here, and left that to everyone else.
“From the start of the year really, I have just focused on trying to get here as best I can. For whatever eventuality arose I wanted to be able to step up. I think I’ve done that. That’s the first box ticked, so to speak, and now it’s just trying to get in the race and do everything right and not make any silly mistakes, and see what happens.”
When Team Sky manager Brailsford introduced his riders at the press conference, he referred to Froome as “our leader”. The 33-year-old’s four Tour de France titles give him undoubted status, but Thomas refuses to see himself as a mere ‘Plan B’.
“Like I say, I’m certainly feeling in good shape – the best I have been coming here – so yeah, we’ll just see what happens really. In the first week a lot can go right or go wrong, so we’ll get through that, get into the Alps and see where we’re at.”
That first week seems better suited to Thomas’ characteristics. Froome described it as “Classics-style” racing, with narrow roads, the threat of crosswinds, short climbs, and of course, cobbles all to be negotiated before the mountains appear in the second half of the race.
In order to place his eggs in the stage racing basket, Thomas had to give up on a burgeoning one-day career, having won E3 Harelbeke in 2015. He even has previous on the pavé in the Tour, finishing second behind Thor Hushovd on stage 12 of the 2010 race in his first season with Team Sky.
“I do like that type of racing, the Classics, obviously I really enjoy them,” he said. “Back in 2010 as well, I was second on that stage behind Thor. You still a need a bit of luck, but I’m really looking forward to it. I love that style of racing.”
The hierarchy will surely have taken some shape by the end of that first week – and the stage 3 team time trial ought to have put both Froome and Thomas some way ahead of their rivals – but Thomas suggested that things will only become truly clear once the roads head uphill in the Alps.
“I guess it’s getting to the Alps and see how we’re going and how the race situation is,” he said.
“As soon as we see a couple of those stages we’ll get an idea of where we’re all at – in the first week as well, but especially in the Alps. I think once we’ve done that first block in the Alps for sure, it will just be a normal sort of… we’ll all be ranked.”