Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) finished an impressive second on the first uphill finish of the Tour of the Alps, happy to have the legs and the courage to ride aggressively after a month away from racing and a block of hard altitude training in his legs.
Team Sky has only six riders at the Tour of the Alps – two fewer than every other team – but they protected Thomas on the fast run-in to the climb to the finish above Innsbruck and then Thomas made a strong move with two kilometres to go. His surge split the reduced peloton, with only Domenico Pozzovivo (AG2r La Mondiale) and Michele Scarponi (Astana) able to go with him. Other riders came back up to the trio in sight of the line but Scarponi kicked early, and Thomas was unable to come past him.
Time bonuses mean that Scarponi leads Thomas by four seconds but the Welshman was happy with his result and especially his form.
"I was a bit heavy legged at the start and wasn't sure how I was going to feel. But when you get in the finale, you get in race mode and so switch off a bit," Thomas said as he warmed down on the rollers post stage.
"I had a good camp in Tenerife and I wasn't sure I was going to be here because we did a big workload. We also did two days of recon and three or four hours in the car on Saturday and Sunday."
Thomas opted to ride all out for victory rather than play tactical games. He seemed set to win the stage but then Scarponi came past him, desperate to win and desperate to finally take Astana's first road race win of 2017.
"There were a few attacks going, so I said: 'sod it' and decided to have a dig and see what happens. It was only a short climb and not that steep either. It was good to have a go and once I went, it would have been easy to sit up and play the game again, but I decided to press on," Thomas explained.
"It was a shame I couldn't come around Scarponi in the end, I just got stuck on his wheel really. I looked at his face when he came past and it looked like he was cruising, I thought 'Jeez man'. Unfortunately, he sat on us all the way in and had us in the sprint - but he's been around a while, he's got the experience."
"It's the first day and I think everyone was finding their legs. Wednesday is a big climbing day and the finish is hard, too. Hopefully, I'll be there but I think a few others will come up, too."
Snow is forecast for Tuesday's second stage at the Tour of the Alps and the temperatures were in the single digits at the finish in Innsbruck. Thomas quickly pulled on a jacket and hat and did a warm down on the rollers. He is more concerned about getting ill that only having five teammates to help him in the next four stages.
"I'm a bit paranoid at the moment about not getting sick but we've got decent kit, we'll wrap up and what will be, will be," he said.
"I don't think many teams would have had seven or eight guys there in the end but we had all six. As long as you have a strong six, you're OK and we certainly have a strong six."
Questions about the latest whistleblower accusations
Thomas spoke to several media last week during the final days of his altitude camp ay Mount Teide in Tenerife, sharing his thoughts on his Giro d'Italia ambitions and the ongoing investigations into Team Sky by UK Anti-Doping. Since then, a whistleblower who is believed to have worked with Team Sky has accused the British squad of violating the UCI's no-needle policy in order to speed recovery of its athletes.
According to reports by the Press Association Sport news agency and the Guardian, the information has been passed to the Select Committee at the House of Commons, while UK Anti-Doping is believed to be investigating the allegation.
The UCI introduced a 'No Needle Policy' in May 2011, banning injections unless covered by Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE). Until then, so-called recuperation injections were legal and widely used the professional peloton. Chris Froome admitted to being injected with Fluimucil as an antioxidant during a stage race while riding for the Barloworld team before the no needle ban came into force. There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing on his part.
Thomas was a teammate with Froome at Barloworld in 2008 and 2009. He admitted he had heard about the whistleblower claims but denied ever seeing any kind of recuperation injections at Team Sky.
"It's all news to it. I saw a tweet about it but I didn't bother to read the article. It's just a load of bull as far as I'm concerned. I've never seen anything like that," Thomas said.
When it was pointed out to Thomas that recuperation injections were legal until 2011 and that Froome confirmed to the Guardian that he had been given Fluimucil by injection, Thomas said: "I've never had it from the team. They did have some kind of stuff (at Barloworld) but I never really had that. In our team, I certainly haven't seen that."
Thomas said he is trying to focus on his racing and final build-up for the Giro d'Italia.
"I haven't even read it, so I don't know if they're saying it's after the needle ban," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, in my own little world, I've never seen that. For me, it's just about cracking on."
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