Geraint Thomas said at the start of the season that he was going to approach the Tour de France as if he was Team Sky's outright leader, and he certainly looked the part in Valmorel on Friday as he moved into the maillot jaune at the Critérium du Dauphiné.
Yet, nearly five months on from those comments, and less than a month before the Tour gets underway in the Vendée, he is no closer to knowing whether or not he will indeed be called upon to lead the line, with a verdict still pending in Chris Froome's salbutamol case.
Thomas still insists he will share leadership with Froome, but in theory, the four-time Tour champion could be banned by the UCI before the race begins. If Froome does race sub-judice, as he has done all season, the results of the Tour will be far from concrete, given that, in the event of a ban, there's no guarantee he'll keep his results from the period following his the date of his abnormal doping control.
"For everyone's sake I just hope it gets sorted out sooner rather than later," Thomas said in his yellow jersey press conference in Valmorel.
"I believe in Froomey, for a start. He's allowed to race so if he can… It's not his fault how it has taken so long. It's out of the team's hands – it's down to the UCI and whoever to get it sorted. It's frustrating for everyone – not just Froomey or the team but the whole peloton. I think it's just not a nice situation for anyone.
"It's easy to say I'm in my own little bubble and I just worry about myself but that really is how it is… I just crack on with myself, I have my own life and my own programme, and I work hard and just focus on that. I can't affect anything that goes on there, so what will be, will be."
Thomas showed his Grand Tour potential at the 2015 Tour when he rode up the general classification while supporting Froome, before falling away in the final week. The following year he tried to position himself as a Plan B but soon found himself in a domestique role, though he did still finish 15th again.
He has since won Paris-Nice, the Volta ao Algarve, and the Tour of the Alps and his stock as a stage racer has risen, though his first shot at Grand Tour leadership, even if shared with Mikel Landa at the 2017 Giro, was ended by an errantly parked motorcycle. He is still toying with the idea of leaving Team Sky in search of a true leadership role on another team.
Assuming Froome will line up at the Tour – and every indication is that there'll be no verdict ahead of the Grand Départ – Thomas is still keen to assert his status as co-leader, rather than a mere Plan B.
"It's probably the first time we've gone into the Tour with two leaders," he said tellingly.
"Especially with the first week in the Tour, a lot can happen there, so having two guys hopefully good enough to fight for the overall is a bonus really, so we'll take it day-by-day and see where we come out of the first week.
"Hopefully I'll be able to not have to do too much work early on for Froomey. You never know. The main thing is to get there in the best shape possible then go from there. I'm down to ride the Vuelta as well but maybe I'll just go for stages. For me to ride in top shape for two Grand Tours back-to-back is maybe too much for me."
If Thomas holds onto the yellow jersey to the end of the Dauphiné on Sunday, it will certainly send a strong message to the Team Sky management.
Not only is there the uncertainty of Froome's salbutamol case, but there are also going to be question marks over his form and ability to win the Tour having won the Giro d'Italia last month. Marco Pantani in 1998 was the last rider to achieve the Giro-Tour double, a challenge that has left Alberto Contador and Nairo Quintana flat in recent Tours. And while the manner of Froome's Giro victory was spectacular, it was hardly consistent, with two stunning stage wins in an otherwise sub-standard display.
Thomas has been solid this year, even if he hasn't won a stage race. He finished on the podium at Algarve and Tirreno-Adriatico, and, after a poor time trial at the Tour de Romandie, he hit the reset button and has been training at altitude on Mount Teide before coming to the Dauphiné, where his shape is clearly coming good at the right time.
"If I'm not in good enough shape I'm not going to have that chance [to lead the team], so the main thing for me is to be in good enough shape and get on that start line as good as possible," he said.
"I just took the approach that July was the big target and to get there in the best shape possible, and that's what I've been doing. It could've been a bit better – in Algarve and Tirenno I had a bit of bad fortune. This race has been really good so far, bar that silly crash in the prologue, but so far so good."
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Deputy Editor - Europe. Patrick is an NCTJ-trained journalist who has seven years’ experience covering professional cycling. He has a modern languages degree from Durham University and has been able to put it to some use in what is a multi-lingual sport, with a particular focus on French and Spanish-speaking riders. After joining Cyclingnews as a staff writer on the back of work experience, Patrick became Features Editor in 2018 and oversaw significant growth in the site’s long-form and in-depth output. Since 2021 he has been Deputy Editor - Europe, taking more responsibility for the site’s content as a whole, while still writing and - despite a pandemic-induced hiatus - travelling to races around the world. Away from cycling, Patrick spends most of his time playing or watching other forms of sport - football, tennis, trail running, darts, to name a few, but he draws the line at rugby.
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