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Thomas confident he's back on track in bid to retain Tour title

 

Geraint Thomas
Geraint Thomas

By Ian Parker

Geraint Thomas declared himself over the blip which cost him time in the Pyrenean mountains as he looked ahead to the decisive stages of the Tour de France and an expected battle for supremacy with home hopeful Thibaut Pinot.

France is dreaming of a first home victory since Bernard Hinault in 1985 after Groupama-FDJ's Pinot enjoyed a superb weekend with victory on the Tourmalet before further gains on Sunday.

But Thomas and Team Ineos spent yesterday's rest day trying to restore the narrative that it is the defending champion who remains favourite to wear yellow in Paris after leader Julian Alaphilippe finally showed signs of weakness on Sunday.

Thomas may have complained of feeling "weak" as he conceded time in the Pyrenees, but if this was a bad patch he has emerged in an enviable position.

Rivals are bunched up behind him - just 39 seconds covering Thomas in second to Emanuel Buchmann in sixth - but it is the Welshman in pole position should Deceuninck-Quick Step's Alaphilippe now fall away as expected.

"Obviously on the Tourmalet I wasn't feeling 100 per cent but it was more just a fuelling thing over a few days rather than anything else," Thomas said.

"Yesterday I finished really strongly so it's not an issue."

Thomas may have complained of being between "a rock and a hard place" tactically on Sunday with co-leader Egan Bernal ahead of him on the road, but he dismissed concerns over co-leadership yesterday.

"Everyone makes out its difficult in the team for us two, but other teams have a bit more stress to try and get rid of us both," he said. "It's a great position for us to be in."

Ineos have hardly dominated the race as they have in winning six of the past seven editions.

This is the first time they have not held yellow at the second rest day since 2014, while the 'Sky train' that used to lead the peloton up every mountain has not appeared in Ineos colours.

Team principal Sir Dave Brailsford will no doubt miss the reassuring sight of his riders in complete control, but claimed it was bringing back happy memories of the velodrome.

"It's more like track racing, the Madison or points or sprinting when the strongest guy doesn't always win," he said.

"It's back to the days sitting in the corner with Shane (Sutton) who was a genius tactically. Which is why I like the sport if I'm honest."

After today's flat stage and a rolling day tomorrow, the race will head to Thomas' favoured terrain in the Alps.

The general classification is superbly poised in what is shaping up to be the most open, unpredictable Tour since 1989, with Steven Kruijswijk, Pinot, Bernal and Buchmann all bunched up behind Thomas.

Pinot is the man in form, having gained 101 seconds on the defending champion in 48 hours. Combined with Alaphilippe's still 95-second lead, Pinot's surge has seen home hopes explode.

Team Sky often faced hostility on the roadside in France for their stifling tactics, Chris Froome even having urine thrown at him, but Thomas is not concerned about a repeat.

"I don't think there'll be strange behaviour," he said of French fans. "If they come out and support their guys that will just add to the atmosphere."

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