Questions over Geraint Thomas' leadership at Team Ineos never seem far away when it comes to the Tour de France. It's as if they're a perpetual mountain he must climb with each passing day. Even last year, when he was comfortably wrapped in the yellow jersey, the Welshman was peppered with doubters who saw Chris Froome as the true leader of the squad until the last possible moment.
At the start of the 2019 edition of the Tour de France, Thomas finds himself in a similar position. He may be the defending champion, but after crashing out of the Tour de Suisse and after seeing his teammate Egan Bernal dominate the race, Thomas' credentials have been diluted to the point where he and Bernal have been given joint leadership at Team Ineos.
Bernal, just 22, and with one Grand Tour behind him, could conceivably reduce Thomas to domestique duties if the Tour de France goes his way.
For Thomas, the question over leadership and common goals at Team Ineos come down to communication. Last year, when the press were looking for a controversial moment between Froome and Thomas, it never materialised. The squad had clearly learned from their 2012 experience with Froome and Bradley Wiggins.
"He's [Egan] an honest and good guy, and as long as we communicate well and are open with each other, like Froome and I were last year, then it can work just as well. Obviously it will be a huge advantage to have two of us there in the finals," Thomas told the press on Thursday.
On the subject of pre-race favourites, Thomas remained coy. Bernal is the bookies' favourite this year, but Richie Porte has tipped the Welshman as the man most likely to wear yellow into Paris. Despite Froome and Tom Dumoulin's absence, there are still a number of high-profile GC candidates.
"I don't know [about being a favourite]. That's for everyone else to talk about. I can't bet on the races anyway, so the odds don't really matter to me. I feel in a good place and I'm looking forward to the race, and I just want to get going now."
Thomas' status would be clear to predict if he had not crashed out of the Tour de Suisse with a head injury. That fall cost him valuable race days and the chance to showcase where his form truly lies. His last meaningful result came back in April at the Tour of Romandie, where he finished third, but in cycling terms that feels like an age ago.
"I feel fine. There's no lasting damage at all. Obviously, it was disappointing to hit my head. That was the reason I couldn't carry on but I've still done some good training and I don't think it's affected me too much," said Thomas.
"There are a lot of good guys, but obviously Fuglsang has been strong all year. Richie Porte for sure will be there. The Yates brothers – either of them. I never know which one it is anyway. So there are a lot of good guys, and that's what makes it so interesting."
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