Geraint Thomas prepares for next yellow jersey battle at Mende
Race leader gives his take on his time up Alpe d’Huez
Race leader Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) ticked off a relatively calm day at the Tour de France as the race began its march from the Alps and towards the next test for the GC contenders at Mende.
Thomas finished safely in the main field during stage 13, with Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) taking the win ahead of Alexander Kristoff (UAE Team Emirates). This was Thomas' first day on the flat since taking the yellow jersey on stage 11, and he came through without major incident. His post-stage press conference was perhaps more of a mental strain than his four-and-a-half hours on the road, with questions ranging from booing crowds to performances and the topic of doping.
The questions over performance related to his winning ride on Alpe d'Huez, in which he clocked 41:16 for his ascent of the climb. The time ranked outside the top 100 times for the ascent [it ranked 109th - ed.], and Thomas was asked if his time was an indication of a cleaner sport. As the maillot jaune rightly alluded to, winning is not a positive test, and a number of variables - not to just time - need to be considered when comparing performances.
"It's always difficult comparing times because conditions on the road are so different. I 100 per cent believe in myself and the team, that we do everything in the right way, along with the majority of the peloton as well," he said.
Thomas, like other riders on the team, often bears the burden for Team Sky's mishandlings over delicate topics. At the start of the 2017 Tour de France, for instance, he was asked about Fancy Bears and Bradley Wiggins, after his team boss left the team's press conference with his riders still front and centre.
And in the wake of Chris Froome's positive test for salbutamol last winter, it was Thomas who first broke the silence and agreed to be interviewed on the subject while a number of riders declined to be drawn on the matter. Facing tough questions has never been something that has fazed the Welshman, but in the environment of a press conference it's often difficult for journalists to get across their variety of questions and for the questioned to give extensive answers. As with so many of these post-stage events, the topics change and flip with alarming regularity.
"I can't say 100 per cent for the peloton, but 99 per cent I'm sure that everyone's doing it the right way, working hard," Thomas said. "I think it's great for the sport. You look at all the anti-doping and all the tests and that type of stuff, and then you look at other sports, cycling's leading the way by a million miles, so I have every confidence in the sport at the moment."
Thomas' post-stage comments on Alpe d'Huez and the times will matter little when in 24 hours he battles up the slopes to Mende. On paper, stage 14 is a transition day as the race flows through the Massif Central and towards the Pyrenees. But in truth, this will be another test of Thomas' mettle. The final climb of the Cote de la Croix Neuve that heads into Mende is just 3km in length but includes pitches of more than 10 per cent. It's a short, punchy test and one not in keeping with the longer climbs we saw in the Alps.
"Today wasn't exactly a rest day,but for sure it was a lot easier than the last three days. It was nice that it was on fast roads as well, the wind was kind to us. It was good to get that day ticked off, an easier day for the whole peloton really," Thomas said.
"Mende has always been a bit of a slog, to be honest. I've done it a couple of times, I think, maybe in Paris-Nice we've done it as well. The last time it wasn't too bad, but it is a tough climb. It's steep. It's only 10-11 minutes or something, 3K. It's one of those where you just grit your teeth and go."
If Thomas can navigate the Massif Central, he will then face the greater hurdle of the Pyrenees. It's on this terrain that the Tour de France is likely to be won and lost this year, and Thomas will need to go deeper into a third week than he's ever gone before if he is to challenge for yellow.
"It's tough, especially coming so far into the race as well. It's going to be super tough," he said when specifically asked about the 65km stage from Bagnères-de-Luchon to Saint-Lary-Soulan.
"The last climb just on its own is really tough - long and at altitude at the end as well. I don't know how you prepare really. You try to be as recovered as possible going into that day. It's just one of those where it's two-and-a half hours and you're done - just get stuck in and hope for the best, I guess."
Whether they're questions over performances and stopwatches, climbs or rivals, Thomas has kept a level head throughout this year's Tour de France. With each passing day the intensity will only grow, but as the race goes deeper into the second half, Thomas' opportunity only becomes all the greater.
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Daniel Benson was the Editor in Chief at Cyclingnews.com between 2008 and 2022. Based in the UK, he joined the Cyclingnews team in 2008 as the site's first UK-based Managing Editor. In that time, he reported on over a dozen editions of the Tour de France, several World Championships, the Tour Down Under, Spring Classics, and the London 2012 Olympic Games. With the help of the excellent editorial team, he ran the coverage on Cyclingnews and has interviewed leading figures in the sport including UCI Presidents and Tour de France winners.