Three years ago, Thomas came to the Critérium du Dauphiné having placed second in the Tour of the Algarve and third in Tirreno-Adriatico and rode off with the title after proving himself the strongest in the mountains. This season, his form has been building in the same way, third place in the Volta a Catalunya followed by overall victory in the Tour de Romandie, which has led to him being installed as the clear favourite for a second Dauphiné title.
The Ineos Grenadiers leader, who has spent much of the time in between Romandie and the Dauphiné "on the volcano" at an altitude training camp in Tenerife, isn't one to get carried away by that kind of hype but admitted that he's got his sights set on the GC in the eight-day French stage race.
"I'm looking forward to it. Obviously, I had a nice win in Romandie and the training in Tenerife was good, but it's always a tough race here so we'll have to see how it goes," he said before the start of the opening stage in Issoire.
"I'll obviously be hoping for the best result possible, but there are eight hard days of racing to come. It was nice to get a win again in Romandie, it gives you a bit of confidence, and I was feeling pretty good on the climbs, so hopefully that will continue," he added.
His status as a favourite is bolstered, as you'd expect, by the strength of the Ineos Grenadiers team backing him, with Richie Porte and Tao Geoghegan Hart offering potent GC options, and solid support supplied by Michal Kwiatkowski, Andrey Amador, Dylan van Baarle and young and highly talented Spanish climber Carlos Rodríguez, who finished fourth overall in the recent Ruta del Sol.
"Obviously, it's a strong team with myself, Richie and Tao," Thomas said. "The main thing, for now, is the first three days because they're tough and a lot of things can still happen. So it'll be a case of staying on it and remaining vigilant. And then when the big days come it's all about the legs."
One of the main talking points coming into the Dauphiné has been the lack of big GC players on the start list compared to previous seasons. Interviewed by L'Équipe, ASO's director of racing Thierry Gouvenou acknowledged, "When you look at the start list, it seems a bit bizarre. We're used to seeing best riders in the bunch but of course, there's no contractual obligation and, particularly in this period, you can understand why some of them have opted to change their plans."
Asked about the fact that he won't be able to test himself against the likes of Primož Roglič and Tadej Pogačar, to name but the most obvious absentees, Thomas replied: "It's always nice to race the best guys and see where you're at. Obviously, those two were the strongest last year and this year they've been going really well. But we can only race who's here.
"We've got a really strong team hopefully we can get the best result we can and go from there."
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Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).
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