Despite finding himself more than a minute ahead of Chris Froome, Geraint Thomas insists a true Team Sky hierarchy at the Tour de France will not be established until the Alps next week, and perhaps even beyond that.
Thomas has ridden a flawless race so far, with a combination of a strong team time trial, a few bonus seconds, and, most importantly, an avoidance of bad luck taking him to second overall, three seconds off the yellow jersey.
Froome, meanwhile, is one of the many overall contenders to have suffered at the hands of misfortune, crashing on the opening day and losing a precious 51 seconds to Thomas and most of his rivals.
"It's been nice to just avoid it all," Thomas said in Fougères on Friday morning, acknowledging that he has endured far more than a fair share of crashes and bad luck over the years. "There's still a long way to go, though, so I'm not getting too carried away at the moment."
Thomas said that while it might be less stressful and energy-sapping for his teammates to avoid the yellow jersey in the first half of the race, "it would be nice if I was in yellow."
There could still be a chance before the week is up and the Tour pauses for its first rest day. Providing there's no further upheaval on Friday and Saturday's flat stages – and that's far from a given in the context what's gone before – Sunday's stage across the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix has the potential to turn the entire race on its head.
There are no fewer than 15 sectors of pavé, amounting to 21.7km, but while many of the lightweight general classification riders are full of apprehension, Thomas is actively looking forward to it, having enjoyed success on such terrain before his transition to a three-week racer.
"The whole day is just going to be full gas," Thomas said. "The first two or three [sectors] are kind of spaced out, but after that, come the fourth one they'll come thick and fast, and yeah, it's just about being in the front all day really."
Thomas weighs considerably less than he did a few weeks ago, a necessity when it comes to climbing mountains but a disadvantage when it comes to the rough, flat terrain.
"It is a bit different. It's just the acceleration in the bunch, when you're fighting for the wheel or coming out of corners and stuff, it does feel a bit different to what used to be like, but it's still doable."
Even so, given his experience, Thomas is widely expected to handle the pavé better than Froome, even if there is less concern surrounding the ex-mountainbiker than there is say, pint-sized climber Nairo Quintana. In terms of team tactics, Thomas was clear that it would be every man for himself amid the expected carnage.
"Your teammates can help you a bit but a lot of the time you kind of just have to find yourself on your own and do it yourself a bit," he said. "It will just be all-in that day."
Froome and the leadership dilemma
As for Froome, the four-time Tour de France champion was less keen to talk about the decisive cobbles on Friday morning.
"It's still two days away, so you can ask me again in a couple of days' time," he told reporters in Fougères
"For sure, it's going to be brutal, there are no two ways about it, and everyone knows that, everyone's waiting for that."
Asked about Thomas and the fact that, if he's to win a record-equalling fifth Tour de France and complete the Giro-Tour double, he must, somewhere along the line, put a minute into his own teammate, he simply said: "That's not how I'm looking at it."
Thomas similarly refused to acknowledge any set leadership structure. Froome is the one with the pedigree, having won the last three editions of the Tour, and his first title in 2013, but Thomas has built his season around July, and proved himself with victory at last month’s Critérium du Dauphiné.
He said before the race that leadership will be established naturally in the Alps from next Monday, and echoed that again, even suggesting the uncertainty could linger into the Pyrenees.
"It's just getting through [the cobbles] as best as possible, attacking it for sure, then getting into the Alps then I think get through the Alps and see how I am and how Froomey is, see where both are, and go from there. There's a hell of a lot that can happen between now and then.
"I think I came into it the best shape I've been," he added. I've been riding well, the team has been riding well, so long may it continue."
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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.
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