Thomas crashed last year and placed fifth overall. However, he has made steady steps with the Volta ao Algarve victory and a second place in the Tour de Suisse.
Cioni ordered the Sky bus to stop as it made its way to the Tirreno-Adriatico hotel yesterday in Italy. For around 30 minutes on the side of a mountain road, he and the team including Mikel Landa, Wout Poels and Peter Kennaugh, watched the Paris-Nice final.
“He’s come a long way – for him it was about going from Classics racing to stage racing,” Cioni told Cycling Weekly. “Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico, also with the Critérium du Dauphiné, are the races that move you closer to a Grand Tour. To be a leader in Paris-Nice and having a close miss after crashing, he’s finally achieved the goal when he’s been close many times before.”
Highlights from the final stage at Paris-Nice
Thomas and Sky closed down a late move from Contador in Nice on Sunday to secure the yellow jersey and race overall by four seconds. Next, he will race Milan-San Remo and then the Volta a Catalunya with Chris Froome. Sky’s idea is to develop him as a leader and possible Tour winner.
“Yes, that’s where ‘G’ is going to go,” said Cioni. “He’s trying to be a protected rider or a leader in a Grand Tour. It’s part of the development – to be there, you need to have those training races, you just don’t do it from one day to the next.
“It’s good practice. In our way of thinking, leading in Paris-Nice has always been part of this development. What does he lack? Experience in leading a Grand Tour. Until you are there, it’s hard to practise that and you get used to it and it’s not a limit.”
Thomas sat fourth overall until the consequences of a crash and fatigue saw him slip to 15th before Tour finished in Paris last year. This year, he should be Sky’s plan B. Cioni does not see any problems between Froome and the Welshman.
“It’s a luxury problem, it’s something good to have,” Cioni added. “In the past it worked well for us, it’s best to have a plan B.”