A solid ride by Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) during the first mountain top stage of the Volta Catalunya on Wednesday showed he has retained his strong Tirreno-Adriatico climbing form, and has propelled the Welshman onto the provisional podium of the seven-day stage race.
Last year Thomas abandoned mid-way through the Volta, but this time around, with Thomas having skipped Milano-Sanremo – where he crashed heavily in 2016 – the Catalan race is a very different ballgame for the Sky rider.
At La Molina, the Welshman benefited from hard work by Pete Kennaugh and Mikel Nieve on the long but very uneven ascent, before marking stage winner Alejandro Valverde closely as the road kicked up in the last kilometre. Thomas ultimately claimed sixth on the stage after Valverde and Dan Martin tore away for the win and is now third overall, 44 seconds down on new race leader Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing Team).
"It's not the hardest of climbs and the way the wind was it was hard to make a real solid pace with everyone," Thomas told a small group of reporters as he warmed down. "And then obviously, that kick up at the end - I lost a couple of positions and on the last corner I got stuck on the wrong side of [Alberto] Contador (Trek-Segafredo) and the wrong side of the barriers. Not that I would have won, but you just want to get it all out."
As for why Team Sky were driving so hard, Thomas explained, "We just wanted a hard day. On paper, today and Friday are the real GC days, although a lot can happen in a race like this on any day. We wanted to try and make the most of it, but the conditions and the climbs didn't quite play into our hards. But we've got a strong team, everyone's racing well, and we'll try and get something every day."
As for the Classics, he said, he was going to miss racing them "for sure. I might just not watch them." Jokingly, he added, "It's Flanders next week and I'm still thinking in my head maybe I should ask Tim [Kerrison, team coach] can I just drop in? But really, I'm going to be sticking to the one thing this year.
"This is a completely different season with very different goals."
Froome told a small group of reporters that given Team Sky's performance in the time trial they've definitely got some time to make up, but they've also got a few cards to play.
"Geraint is going fantastically in his build-up to the Giro, and we're all behind him," Froome said.
Compared with how he performed on La Molina last year, when he lost 12 seconds and finished ninth, Froome was upbeat about having taken an eight second loss, finishing 12th on the stage but climbing to fifth on GC.
"I've never really been right up there in Catalunya before, so to be up there in the top 10 on GC, on a climb where I've lost time before, I'm happy with how my first WorldTour [stage] race is going," he said. "It's a bit of a shock to the system but this is what I need to get back into the rhythm."
Thursday's stage has a short, but apparently very difficult second category climb 13 kilometres from the finish in Igualada.
"It could be quite grippy tomorrow, but I imagine Friday will be the more decisive stage and guys like Contador, maybe Valverde will be looking to make up time on Friday's stage," Froome said.
Froome remains a key card to play for Sky, then, but for now Thomas is heading the team's effort. As Froome put it, "We'll do everything we can in the next few days to make sure he's up there."
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