Geraint Thomas: The Dauphiné is not just a two-team race
Jumbo-Visma and Team Ineos riders play down significance of duel going into Dauphiné
"It’s not just a two-team race," Geraint Thomas insisted just before lining up for the opening stage of the Critérium du Dauphiné in Clermont Ferrand.
Yet, while that is undoubtedly true, the reprise of the duel between Jumbo-Visma and Team Ineos that lit up the Tour de l’Ain is expected to continue in this week's five-day Critérium du Dauphiné.
Indeed, Milan-San Remo winner Wout van Aert struck first for Jumbo-Visma by winning the stage 1 uphill finish. Egan Bernal was third. Geraint Thomas finished in the same time but Chris Froome eased up with 3.8km to go, finishing 5:23 down.
The Dutch squad took the overall honours and the bragging rights at the Tour de L'Ain, with Primoz Roglic winning two stages and the GC. 2019 Tour de France winner Egan Bernal was second place overall, his Ineos team unable to escape Jumbo-Visma's stranglehold in the Jura massif.
However, the riders on both of those teams, as well as a number of others, played down the significance of the Tour de l’Ain, most of them repeating the refrain that the Tour, and particularly its toughest stages, remain some weeks in the distance.
Roglic led the way, admitting he’d like to win the Dauphiné, but that it’s essentially a stepping stone to the far bigger target of the yellow jersey.
"Ineos have got lots of good riders here, but there are a lot of other strong teams as well," he said when asked about the Jumbo-Ineos contest.
"We still need to improve in certain areas, we’ve got some new riders here after the Tour de l’Ain and we have to come together, to work as a group,” said the Slovenian.
"There’s still a long way to go to the Tour," he added.
Bernal had very much the same perspective, preferring to focus on his own team’s performance rather than considering how they match up to others.
"I think the most important goal for us should be to ride as a team and to start to get the real feeling that’s needed for the Tour. We hope to be up there in the GC, I’ll be going for that, but we’ll be looking towards the Tour de France above all else," said the Colombian.
Tom Dumoulin knocked back a suggestion that the Dutch team had given too much at the Tour de l’Ain.
"I don’t think we were doing too much. I think Ineos were saving themselves and we just turned out to be better at the end. This race is another level up and the Tour de France is another level up again, so we’ll just have to see what happens," he explained.
"This is by far the strongest team that I’ve ever been part of, it’s amazing the line-up that we have here and that we will have at the Tour," Dumoulin continued, adding that he and his teammates still had improvements to make.
"We’re here to finalise some tactics and also to fine-tine our physical condition. But I hope we can also go for the win at the same time."
Asked to highlight what improvements could be made following such a dominating performance last week, Dumoulin pointed to his own form.
"I was good at the Tour de l’Ain, particularly on the last day, but I hope to improve and to be a little bit more consistent. I had a little bit of a bad second day there, so I’m hoping I can improve my consistency here with the Tour very much in mind," he said.
2018 Tour de France champion Thomas is another looking to improve, and admitted he’s come into the Dauphiné better rested but still unsure of his form.
"I’d done a big block of training and I think I maybe overdid it slightly, so I was tired coming into the Tour de l’Ain," he said.
"With the heat as well, it wasn’t the best race for me, but I got a good work-out from it. But I think with this race in my legs and then a good rest, I should be okay for the Tour."
And that Ineos-Jumbo duel?
"Obviously we’ve got to watch out for Jumbo, but there are a lot of other good teams and riders here as well," suggested the Welshman.
"We won’t get drawn into just racing them. Getting five good, hard days of racing will be good, but obviously you don’t want to come out of it completely in a box. But we’re all experienced pros and know how to get through in the best way possible. It’s definitely going to be a tough race, though, because it’s pretty much the Tour field here."
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