The time trial on stage 5 of the Tour de France was meant to be a day where Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) could gain time, but the Welshman struggled through and watched his main yellow jersey rivals move further clear.
Expectations surrounding Thomas on Wednesday had been revised in the wake of his heavy crash on stage 3, in which he suffered a dislocated shoulder.
He said he woke up on Wednesday morning feeling "terrible" and, despite producing a solid enough ride on the 27km time trial course in the Mayenne, it was nevertheless some way short of his best.
Thomas stopped the clock on 33:18, which was good enough for a spot in the top 10 at the time but, having started early among the overall contenders after his earlier time losses, he was bumped down as his rivals came through.
Thomas had already conceded 32 seconds to Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) and he soon had to watch 2020 champion Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) storm home for the stage win a whopping 1:18 in advance.
"I rode the best TT I could," Thomas said. "It was just what I had really. Obviously I didn't feel 100 per cent, but I don't want to bang on about that. I tried to do what I could and it wasn't enough."
"I didn’t know what to expect. I woke up this morning and felt terrible, to be honest but once I got going and loosened a bit I felt better. It’s just one of those things, I’ve just got to crack on and deal with it and just keep fighting I guess.”
Thomas had something of a slow start to his time trial, standing 28th at the first intermediate checkpoint, 35 seconds slower than Pogačar’s time. However, he did manage to steady the ship, rising to 17th at the second checkpoint before taking 16th place in the final standings.
He has been known to ride so-called ‘negative splits’ but the pacing strategy was influenced by his recent time trial at the Critérium du Dauphiné, where he went out too hard and lost considerable time in the second section of the course.
“[The Dauphiné] was definitely in my mind,” he said. “I went out conservatively - maybe a bit too conservatively. On this course I knew there was no real room to recover, there weren’t too many downhills, so I tried to just start conservatively and ride more of a flat line. It was decent enough pacing really, just not enough power.”
In the end, Pogačar, Roglič, Rigoberto Urán (EF-Nippo), and Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep) were the only GC contenders to finish ahead of Thomas, who still put considerable time into climbers such as David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) and Miguel Angel López (Movistar).
In the overall standings, Thomas rose six places to 12th overall, 1:54 down on race leader Mathieu van der Poel (Alpecin-Fenix), 1:46 down on Pogačar, and six seconds down on Roglič, who had lost a minute in his own stage 3 crash.
In terms of the much-discussed internal hierarchy at Ineos, Thomas bettered his co-leader Richard Carapaz by 26 seconds on the day and is now 10 seconds behind the Ecuadorian overall.
"It's certainly wide open. Obviously, Pogačar is in the strongest position, but, as we've seen the first few days, a lot can happen and change.
“It's open - all to play for.”
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