Could hopes for the Team Sky man to place within the top-10 at the Tour already be gone before the race has even started?
On the face of it, that certainly appears to be the case as the Welshman revealed in the team’s pre-race press conference that his disappointing performance at the Tour de Suisse has resulted in a significant reduction in his expected role as Team Sky’s “free electron”, as a rider given licence to seek his own GC opportunity.
After holding a top-five place until the final few days of last season’s race despite giving all he had for Chris Froome’s challenge for the yellow jersey, Thomas had certainly earned the chance for that freer role. Even team leader Froome was behind the Welshman’s bid for some personal glory this year.
Fully committed to the switch from Classics star to Grand Tour contender, he lost weight and worked hard on his climbing. Victory over Alberto Contador at Paris-Nice in the spring made it clear he was on the right track.
Since then, however, Thomas’s progress has stalled, most notably in Switzerland’s two premier events.
Thomas believes that his enthusiasm to embrace the position of a protected rider meant that he pushed himself too hard at Sky’s altitude training camp in Tenerife. Keenness got the better of him.
Subsequent to his lacklustre showing in Switzerland’s national tour, Thomas and Sky’s management have reassessed his role and he’ll now start the Tour with the same remit as last season, to support Froome whenever and wherever he can.
Yet, although apparently consigned to his former role in Sky’s engine room alongside the likes of Ian Stannard and Luke Rowe, Thomas may still emerge as a top-10 contender.
The short run-in to the first mountain stage to Le Lioran on day five won’t take as much of a physical toll as the 2015’s prelude to the serious climbing, which was twice as long.
Consequently, an in-form Thomas should certainly be among the large group that is likely to be in contention at Le Lioran.
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The Pyrenees arrive just two days later, and it is here that Thomas’s GC hopes will effectively be decided.
Sky will be counting on him and Mikel Landa scattering Froome’s rivals. If they achieve this, at least one and perhaps even both of Froome’s key mountain lieutenants should reach the first summit finish in Andorra well up in the standings.
Recent form suggests Tour debutant Landa is the more likely to do so, but Thomas, who is appearing in La Grande Boucle for the seventh time, has experience on his side.
Beyond that, with the Ventoux and four brutal days around Mont Blanc to negotiate, predictions for any rider’s fate are impossible.
However, Thomas will now go into them feeling less pressure from his team and lower expectations from the media and fans. Those stages might still be the making of him as a GC contender.