Geraint Thomas targeting Tour de France victory despite Froome rivalry

Geraint Thomas enjoyed the final days of his Tour de France celebrations at the Saitama criterium in Japan at the weekend but admitted he is keen to get back into a more normal cyclist's routine and start preparing for 2019 and a shot at a second Tour de France victory.

The Welshman understandably wanted to savour his first-ever Tour de France success but the desire for a second victory is growing as he becomes fatigued by the celebrations.

That desire could put him on a collision course with Chris Froome for leadership at Team Sky next July but Thomas is convinced the two Team Sky leaders can find a gentleman's agreement that means the road and the racing will decide who perhaps pulls on the yellow jersey in Paris next July.

"I've enjoyed it all but now I just want to get training again. Even my wife Sara has said: 'I'm looking forward to when you're back on your bike and in a routine.' I'm craving that now," Thomas explained to a select group of media, including Cyclingnews, in Saitama, admitting he has not done any structured training since the Tour of Britain in early September.

"It's still a bit of a whirlwind, really. I haven't really stopped. I've not been anywhere for more than four or five days. It's been good but hectic."

Thomas had to squeeze into his Tour de France yellow jersey for the racing in Saitama, while other Grand Tour riders such as world champion Alejandro Valverde and Vincenzo Nibali looked skinny in comparison. Thomas finished second to Valverde in Sunday's exhibition criterium, while on Saturday he enjoyed a baseball lesson on stage, rode in a kids' race, and signed hundreds of autographs for the friendly and enthusiastic Japanese fans.

The diet and serious training begins in two weeks' time, after almost 10 weeks of only occasional riding.

"Next week I'm in Britain to promote my new book, and then I'm back to Shanghai for the other Tour de France criterium. But after that it's back to Monaco and back to being a bike rider again. I'm really looking forward to it, too. I've had enough of everything else," Thomas said.

"For sure, it's the most time I've had off the bike, so I won't start next year with all guns blazing. I just wanted to enjoy it because it doesn't happen every day. I've certainly enjoyed it.

"Dave Brailsford has been on to me, saying: 'Don't get too big, try to keep ticking over.' I can feel myself growing – sideways. Just maintaining any fitness is certainly the hardest thing but once you get back into it, I'm sure it will come back."

'It still seems funny when I think: I've won the Tour'

Thomas was the guest of honour at an official dinner on Saturday night, and video highlights took him back to the drama of the 2018 Tour de France: his stage victories at La Rosière and Alpe d'Huez, and the moment he cracked emotionally and cried when he realised he'd won the Tour de France after the final time trial.

Thomas remains down to earth despite now being a Tour de France winner.

"I still feel the same person. That's why it still seems funny when I think: 'I've won the Tour!'" he said, with a laugh that reveals his sense of disbelief.

"You dream of winning the Tour de France but you never really think it will happen. It seems out of reach. But as the years go by and you improve in the Classics and stage races, it becomes more achievable. Since 2016, it's been one of my goals. Of course, you can believe in it and have confidence that you can do it, but to actually do it is amazing."

Thomas details the emotions of his Tour victory in his new book, 'The Tour according to G'. He also reveals the moments of tension at Team Sky when it's decided the others riders will not wait for Thomas if he punctured in the stage 3 team time trial.

Froome also got the freedom to attack in the Alps, despite Thomas being in yellow, and leadership precedence when only one air conditioning unit could be used to avoid tripping out the hotel lights. Thomas reveals he defied that instruction and put on his own air-con unit. Fortunately the power did not go down and cracks inside the team were eventually healed.

Thomas was eventually given total team leadership after the 65km stage 17 to Saint-Lary-Soulan. He gained a further 46 seconds on a fading Froome, extending his lead to 2:31.

Thomas lost 14 seconds to Froome in the final Espelette time trial after backing off, knowing overall victory was his. That's when he cracked and cried on television.

"Until then, I wouldn't let myself think about winning it," he reveals.

"I just thought about it the next day and the next day, not letting anything get to me. I would have loved to have just enjoyed it but I didn't want to get emotional before then because then your performance can go up and down with it.

"It's the way I approached the track, and that mental training over all those years, about staying logical and not thinking about what can go wrong, just thinking about what I had to do, all paid off nicely in the end." 

A clash of Tour de France ambitions

Both Thomas and Froome have expressed their desire to target the Tour de France in 2019, while following Team Sky's carefully planned strategy of only making a final decision on their Grand Tour team leaders in December. Froome and Thomas have both played the game of hinting they could opt to target the Giro d'Italia; Thomas suggests he has unfinished business after crashing out in 2017, while Froome is the defending maglia rosa after his victory this year. 

In truth, both want to win the Tour de France again. Froome wants to make history and win a fifth Tour, while Thomas insists he is still hungry and wants to pull off the rarely achieved feat of winning a second Tour de France a year after the first.

Their personal ambitions could eventually clash on the roads of France next July but Thomas is convinced they'll never become the next Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault, fighting over the chance for victory. Or be like Bradley Wiggins and Froome in 2012, when the younger upstart appeared to be stronger than his team leader in the final mountain stages but was held back under team orders.

"Maybe we're just both really nice people…" Thomas said, adding: "Of course, I'm not saying anything about anyone else," jokingly avoiding any comparisons with the other former Tour stars.

Thomas suggested in a recent interview with the Guardian that winning the Tour de France will put him and Froome on a level playing field when it comes to leadership going forward. Of course, that disregards the Grand Tour victory totals. Froome has won six, while Thomas is on one. However, Thomas wants win number two as soon as possible.

"I don't know if I said 'level playing field'. I don't know exactly what my programme is at the moment," Thomas said, obfuscating briefly before clearly stating his case for an equal leadership and letting the road and the racing decide who is the strongest.

"If I was to go to the Tour 100 per cent to try to win, and Froome was the same, I think if we'd just ride like we did this year. As we all know, anything can happen, but if we're open and honest, and as long as we don't race against each other, mess it up and allow someone else to win, I can't see why it can't work out the same."

Thomas hinted that he and Froome will have to somehow pitch their case to be Team Sky's Tour de France leader in front of team management this winter. He revealed there are no special clauses in his new three-year contract with Team Sky that guarantee him any kind of team leadership.

"I'll look at the route of the Tour and the Giro in detail over the next few weeks and come up with a plan, and I'm sure Froome will do the same," Thomas explains.

"I'm guessing he'll want to go to the Tour full on and get that fifth win. Once we both have our plans, we'll go from there. I'll sit down with Tim [Kerrison, coach], and maybe Dave [Brailsford], and go through what I want to do. I don't see any reason why we can't do the same as we did this year."

It's not about power meters or money

At the recent Tour de France route presentation, race director Christian Prudhomme called for a ban on power meters, going as far as suggesting they "annihilate the glorious uncertainty of sport". Romain Bardet recently told Cyclingnews that he would like to see six-rider teams at the Tour.

"What's more boring than a few big teams controlling the race until the sprint or until the last kilometre of a climb? That's not the cycling we want. I'm in favour of everything that shakes up the Tour de France," Bardet said.

Thomas' answer is brutally honest, rather than diplomatic.

"If we're winning, I don't care if it's exciting or not," he said, without any malice.

"We haven't won the last six out of seven Tours de France because we've got power meters. It's actually fine with me to take away power meters. I don't think it'd affect the race. Other races are exciting and riders use power meters in them. I don't think they make much difference."

Team Sky's huge budget – and so their ability to field a very strong, often dominant team in Grand Tours – has also been used to criticise Team Sky. UCI President David Lappartient is one of many to suggest introducing some kind of budget or limiting the strength of one team in specific races.

Thomas hits back hard a second time, arguing Team Sky's success is not due just to their budget.

"It's not just about money, for sure," he says. "Money obviously means you can sign good riders but look at someone like Wout [Poels]. Quick-Step didn't even want him, but he came to Team Sky and now he's well paid and has done well.

"This team improves people. We're not just signing Suarez and Ronaldo and Messi, and there you go," says Thomas, referring to the famous footballers. "They develop the team as well.

"A lot of other teams have a lot of money, too. Katusha have a big budget, for sure, and the difference between them and us was… quite big."

What do Team Sky's rivals have to do to beat them?

"Just become better than us…" Thomas says, throwing down the gauntlet.

"Were a super-strong team but if we didn't have the best rider in the race, we wouldn't win. And we'd have to race differently as well. If Tom Dumoulin was putting time into me and Froomey, we wouldn't just sit on the front all day. But this year I got in the jersey early, and I was able to control it, defend it, and gain more time.

"It's up to the others guys to improve if they want to take us on. We've got a massive advantage as a team, as a Tour squad, because we're all in it together and all pushing each other. The Team Sky Tour squad has that aura about it. Everyone wants to be in that Tour team and the competition for places and all the training together – the camps, and everything we do – that's what makes all the difference."

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