Geraint Thomas avoided naming himself as the Inoes Grenadiers team leader for the Tour de France as he revealed the names of the eight-rider squad but appeared upbeat about his chances and enthusiastic about the race route that includes two important time trials where he can perhaps gain time on many of his rivals and teammate Richard Carapaz.
Thomas is expected to share team leadership with Carapaz, with Richie Porte and Tao Geoghegan Hart also possible alternatives, while vital support is expected from road captain Luke Rowe, Dylan van Baarle, Jonathan Castroviejo and Michał Kwiatkowski.
Ineos Grenadiers appear to be hoping their collective strength can overcome Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma). Team manager Dave Brailsford insisted Ineos will be aggressive as they try to beat the two Slovenians, promising to “make our opposition focus for every kilometre of every stage.”
Thomas was not able to fight for victory at the recent Critérium du Dauphiné and instead worked for Porte, but was third at the Volta a Catalunya in March and won the Tour de Romandie. He completed a vital altitude training camp in May and did detailed reconnaissance of the key Tour de France stages.
He seems on the same form and same trajectory as 2018 when he won the Tour.
“I’ve had a decent year so far and I’m getting better all the time. I’m feeling good and looking forward to a good Tour with the team. We’ve got a lot of good options and cards to play. I’m super motivated for a big Tour,” Thomas said in his usual humble and lighthearted style.
He commented on the different strengths and qualities of his seven teammates, highlighting the importance of unity and Grand Tour experience before talking about his rivals and the 2021 race route.
“This year’s route is as hard as ever,” he suggested.
"On the first two days there are hard little finishes, for the likes of Alaphilippe, Van der Poel and Van Aert; they’ll be racing for the yellow jersey. We’ve then got some flat days where wind is possible. There’s a TT in the first week, then we end off with a 250km stage and two hard days in the mountains. That’s a solid first nine days.
“The second week we have Ventoux, some other tough days too, again potentially with wind, you just never know with the Tour. Then in the final week we have some big mountain days again with a summit finish at the Col du Portet that we did in 2018. Then’s there’s Luz Ardiden and the final TT.
“We’ve reconned most of the key stages and seen the final time trial in Bordeaux, the Ventoux, which we climb twice. We know all the tough stages and hopefully the legs are good enough to get us up the quickest.
“There are three summit finishes and three hard mountain stages where you descend to the finish. The top of the climbs are like the finish line. If you go over the top with 20 or 30 seconds then you can keep it. They’ll still be big days, so we’re looking at it as if there’s six hard mountain days.”
Taking precious seconds in the two time trials
Thomas sealed overall victory in the final time trial in 2018 and as a former team pursuiter and world class time trialist, he hopes to gain time on many of his rivals on the 27.5km time trial stage 5 to Lavel and then on the 30.8km stage 20 time trial near Bordeaux. The time trials could also help him gain time on teammate Carapaz if they are of similar strength in the mountains.
“It’s nice to see more TTs in the Tour and normal TTs not a mountain TT or something that drags all the way up. It’s nice to mix it up. You need to do everything to win the Tour. It shouldn’t be just about climbing,” he suggested.
“The TT’s will definitely be crucial because over 58km you could lose a good minute and in the mountains there aren’t massive differences these days. Everyone seems to be close and bigger groups coming into the last few kilometres.
“The TT is not an easy place to get an advantage but if you’re a better TT rider than a smaller climber, then it’s a good chase to gain a bit of time, so they will definitely be crucial.”
Thomas named Pogačar and Roglič as the two stand out rivals for Ineos Grenadiers but is wary of many other strong riders on this year's start list.
“Pogačar and Roglič sort of owned 2020. They're going good this year, too, so they're the two favourites for sure,” he said.
“Then there’s us... we’ve got a pretty strong team I’d say. Then there’s loads of guys who will be competitive.
“These days in cycling there are loads of good teams and riders, so it’s hard to go through them all because you miss someone out. Looking at Suisse, Rigo (Rigoberto Uran of EF Education-Nippo) is going well and in the Dauphine (Alexey) Lutsenko was going well. There are a heap of riders to watch out for.”
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