Brailsford: There are two races in this year’s Tour de France

Dave Brailsford and Geraint Thomas at Team Ineos' press conference on the second rest day of the Tour de France.

Dave Brailsford and Geraint Thomas at Team Ineos' press conference on the second rest day of the Tour de France. (Image credit: Getty Images)

Team Ineos may not be the dominant force of recent years but they remain in the thick of the action as this year’s Tour de France heads towards a conclusion in the Alps over the coming days. The British squad has defending champion Geraint Thomas sitting in second place overall, 1:35 down on race leader Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep), with Egan Bernal hovering in fifth at 2:02.

Team manager Dave Brailsford believes that two races are going in in this year’s Tour: the first of which revolves around dismantling Alaphilippe’s GC lead, while the second centres on what he sees as the battle for victory from behind between the more experienced contenders.

“We’re the only team with two riders high up on the GC. I think you’ve just got to adapt to the situation. There’s not a single tactic that you can just deploy,” Brailsford said concerning the situation that sees Thomas and sixth-placed Emanuel Buchmann separated by just 39 seconds.

“It just evolves as the day evolves. It’s almost minute-by-minute. You’ve got to be opportunistic with it. On the one hand we want to put time into Alaphilippe and on the other hand we still want to race against the other guys in GC. It’s interesting, to be honest. And challenging. It’s a nice position to be in.

“There are two challenges. One is the effort needed to get rid of Alaphilippe. If they don’t make it hard enough then he’ll stay there and win the race. Equally no one wants to make that effort and then not have the energy to do the GC. It feels like there are two different races. One to win the race and then taking responsibility to get rid of Alaphilippe. So far no one has. That’s why Elia Viviani was riding over the mountains but if that continues Alaphilippe could win the race.”

Team Ineos proactive have to be rather than reactive

Team Ineos – and formerly Team Sky – are used to having their way at the Tour de France having won six of the past seven editions of the race, missing out only in 2014 when Chris Froome crashed out in the opening week. This year has been different. The squad is used to defending the race lead in the final week but they must now be proactive rather than reactive.

The problem is that they simply don’t look as dominant as they have done in the past. Several of their climbers were dropped earlier than expected in the Pyrenees and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) has put time into them on every summit finish so far. Bernal tried to go with the Frenchman on stage 15 but was distanced on the final climb. Thomas has steadied the ship since being dropped on the Tourmalet but still lost time to Pinot on the road to Prat d’Albis.

“The race has been raced differently,” Brailsford suggested.

“The penultimate climbs have been raced like the final climbs. You have to think about the third week. It’s a different race this year in terms of how it has played out. You ask yourself why and what’s the dynamic. Obviously, this is the first time in several years that Chris [Froome] hasn’t raced, although he didn’t win it last year. That maybe had an impact on the outset but as the race has developed, Alaphilippe has been in the race a lot longer than people thought he would be.

“Therefore, that’s changed the way all other teams are riding. That’s probably the biggest change in terms of this race. It’s had a ripple effect. There’s a bit of a conundrum on trying to get rid of Alaphilippe on the one hand and then the normal GC guys trying to race each other on the other. How you deal with one is probably different from how you deal with the other.”

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Daniel Benson