The four Ineos Grenadiers team leaders at the Tour de France spoke one after the other on Thursday afternoon during their final video press conference in Brest, with Geraint Thomas followed by Richard Carapaz, Riche Porte, and Tao Geoghegan Hart.
Asked if the running order was also the order of leadership within the team, Thomas was happy to provide a firm “yes”, showing his usual deadpan sense of humour, but he also hinted at his determination to emerge as team leader as he tries to win the Tour de France for a second time.
The Ineos tacticians will hope that their combined strength can be enough to take on Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) in this year’s Tour.
Thomas has the advantage of the 58km of time trials and has worked hard to be at his best in the mountains to emerge as team leader and so fight for a second Tour victory. Carapaz is in superb form after winning the Tour de Suisse and could take over as team leader if Thomas struggles, while Porte and Geoghegan Hart are perhaps talented reserves and ready to step up if needed.
Thomas took over team leadership from Chris Froome to win the 2018 Tour in a similar way but then had to pass leadership to Egan Bernal when the Colombian won in 2019.
Before the racing begins in Brittany, before crashes and intense racing cause time losses somewhere during the three weeks, Thomas is happy to be on what he described as a “level playing field” of Ineos leadership.
“There are four guys who potentially can be up there and that’s great. It gives us cards to play later on,” he said before also highlighting the intrinsic dangers of the same strategy.
“At the same time we can’t get carried away and try to protect four riders. That would be impossible and would take too much out of the other four in the first week. But if we can all be in touching distance, then it can be a great strength. But as we all know, that won’t be the case. Something will happen to somebody as it always does.
“Starting with such a strong team is a great position to be in. Communication is the main thing. The good thing is that there's no ego in this team. That's why we've performed as well as we have so far this season.”
Thomas won the Tour de Romandie in late April and was third at the Critérium du Dauphiné after a crash and helping Porte secure overall victory. He was not dominant in the mountain stages but now appears on track and on form ready to take on Pogačar and Roglič in a three-way battle of Grand Tour winners and their super teams.
He seems to have learned his lesson from overindulging after his 2018 win and missing out on a Tour de France selection in 2020.
“Last year it was a big disappointment missing the Tour and then crashing out of the Giro after three days. This season started better. I’ve been enjoying racing and we’ve been consistently up there in the results,” he said.
“I think I was in good shape for the Tour in 2019 and I had great shape in the Giro but I didn't get to show that. I’ve just been enjoying it this year.”
Veteran assessment of race
Pogačar will start just his second Tour this year, while Roglič is riding his fourth. Thomas will start his 11th after making his debut back in 2007 in London. He is hoping age and experience can overcome Pogačar’s youth and Roglič’s neophyte enthusiasm, and help him secure a new contract with Ineos for beyond 2021.
“I think it will help. I hope the experience will give me a slight edge. This is my 11th start in the Tour. I have that experience behind me, as we do as a team,” Thomas said.
“We’ve got a strong team. As I said, I think the main thing is good communication. As long as we continue that I think we can be in a very strong position.”
Thomas is aware he will need all his skill set for the opening stages in Brittany and is slightly concerned that those early stages could cost someone a chance of overall victory.
“It's going to be a hard first week for sure. It’s always chaotic, always stressful at the Tour,” he predicted. “I think the first TT will be big too. There are differences in mountains but there are bigger gaps in TTs than between the pure climbers and the better time trialists.
“The Breton stages are up and down, left and right. There’s a lot going on and there could be a bit of rain that will add to it all. The two stage finishes are tough and there could be wind too.
“It’ll be a chaotic first week and it certainly will be hard. Even if gaps are not there, there will be guys who have used up a lot of mental and physical energy and that will affect everyone coming into the final week.”
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