Geraint Thomas: Can Welshman really win the Tour de France with Primoz Roglic and Tadej Pogacar on scene?
Geraint Thomas was on the winning team at the Critérium du Dauphiné, and though he wasn’t the one wearing yellow at the end of Stage 8, he heads to the Tour as Ineos’ leader. It goes without saying that he’ll have the strongest, ‘winningest’ team at the race, but the question is: can he finish if off? Kit Nicholson dives into the Welshman’s chances…
WATCH - Final stages of astonishing finish that saw Pogacar eventually beat Roglic
The cycling world has evolved since Geraint Thomas won the Tour de France in 2018. The Welshman was 32 when he climbed to back-to-back stage wins in the mountains, and raced a confident and controlled time trial to confirm his leadership of the race. One year later, he finished second overall behind 22-year-old teammate Egan Bernal. That was the last Grand Tour he finished.
Since his victory, the Slovenian duo of Primož Roglič and 2020 Tour de France champion Tadej Pogačar have climbed to the peak of Grand Tour racing, the latter another of the young whippersnappers who are rewriting the rulebook on professional cycling. With them in attendance, the 2021 Tour will be a different challenge for Thomas, but he will have the advantage of probably the strongest team at the race, not to mention a mostly positive run-up.
In contrast to Roglič and Pogačar who have taken the unusual decision to do little or no racing pre-Tour (Roglič won’t have raced since Liège-Bastogne-Liège in April, while Pogačar takes on the Tour of Slovenia next week), Thomas is on the traditional course of racing the Tour de France warm-up event, the Critérium du Dauphiné. With overall victory at the Tour de Romandie already under his belt, his preparation is, for the most part, going to plan.
Thomas cut a confident and pragmatic figure at the Dauphiné. The first few stages were a matter of simply finishing in the main group, which he managed much better than some of his GC rivals. Then came the Stage 4 ITT and the first real opportunity to move up the rankings. It didn’t quite go to plan.
Geraint Thomas | Tour de France
Image credit: Getty Images
Time trial woes
A lot was expected of the former British national time trial champion over the 16.4km test, not least following the Fribourg TT at the Tour de Romandie where third place on the stage propelled him to overall victory.
Thomas came through the first time check (at 7.5km) a massive seven seconds ahead of second fastest, but by the finish, he’d dropped to 10th with a time of 21:59.77, 23 seconds behind stage winner Alexey Lutsenko (Astana). It doesn’t sound terrible over 16.4km, but bearing in mind his significant advantage at the 7.5km mark, it means he lost a smidge over 32 seconds in just 8.9km. That is not something he will want to risk repeating at the Tour de France, which this year includes almost 60km of individual time trialling.
“My pacing was a bit too aggressive really for what I had today,” Thomas said as he warmed down after his TT effort. “It’s not the type of course where you want to be hanging on for the last seven or eight km. I'm there or thereabouts so it's all still to play for.”
Stage 5 provided another punchy day of racing that had something of the one-day classic about it. In short, not a GC day. However, through fast thinking and smart race craft, Thomas found himself off the front in the technical run-in. With a turn of pace that echoed his blistering first split in the previous day’s TT, he surged away from the Bahrain-Victorious-led bunch and held on for an unplanned stage victory. Just.
'Fabulous Finale' - Thomas sprints to Stage 5 victory of Criterium
“It was definitely disappointing yesterday,” Thomas reflected after his surprise stage win. “It was a combination of not great legs but also riding it really badly and dying in the second half where you need to be strongest. Nice to bounce back.”
Thomas’s stage win was the first of three great stage results - with three different riders - for the Ineos Grenadiers. Tao Geoghegan Hart sprinted to second behind Valverde (Movistar) on Stage 6 after positioning Thomas in the closing kilometres, then Richie Porte took his opportunity to attack the very next day, climbing to second on the stage and into the race leader’s yellow jersey.
Ineos Grenadiers started the final Alpine stage with 1st, 3rd and 11th on GC, all within 1:24. There were plenty of attacks from the other GC teams, but they stayed in control of the race.
“It’s fantastic to be back racing in this team,” Porte said after Stage 7. “I enjoyed my last years, but I do feel like I’m home here, and we do have a super strong team who knows how to win this bike race.”
There were some uncomfortable moments for the team on Stage 8 with Thomas sliding out on a hairpin and Porte nervous on the descent, but the yellow jersey managed to do what he couldn’t at the 2017 Dauphiné and wrapped up overall victory. Nevertheless, the plan remains the same for Porte and the Ineos Grenadiers going into the Tour de France where, as Porte said after Saturday’s Stage 7, “it’ll be all for G.”
‘Geraint’s down, Geraint’s down!’ – Thomas crashes on Stage 8 of Criterium
So can Thomas win the Tour?
We can’t comment with any certainty on how Roglič and Pogačar will perform after their unconventional preparation, but their more consistent track records in recent months (and years) put forward a very persuasive argument. It’s hard to see past either of them in the fight for yellow.
That said, there’s something self-assured about Thomas this season, this week’s time trial and the tumble on the Joux Plane descent notwithstanding. Everyone knows he’s a good tester on his day and with any luck, Wednesday’s disappointment will have given him the wake-up call he needs before he goes against the clock in July.
So, can Geraint Thomas win the Tour de France? We know he can climb, we know he can lead a team, so as long as he manages to pace his TT efforts, keeps a grip of his handlebars and stays upright, he should have a good race. And if he doesn’t, one of the other many winners in the Ineos Grenadiers line-up will be able to take up the gauntlet...