Geraint Thomas is confident heading into the Giro d'Italia, going into the three-week stage race as one of the favourites, having recovered his form after his omission from the Tour de France.
Although it wasn't an 'omission', according to team boss Dave Brailsford, who has said the situation was misconstrued and it wasn't a case of 'non-selection' for Thomas at the Tour de France, but more a re-evaluation of goals for the season.
"This is the first time we’ve seen each other [since their discussion that Thomas would miss the Tour], he just punched me in the mouth as we walked in," Brailsford joked, sitting next to the 2018 champion at Ineos' pre-race press conference.
"I think people misunderstood the whole thing around the Tour, it’s not a non-selection when you look at the situation. Everyone came through the pandemic in different ways. We sat down, we’ve known each other a long time and can sit down and have a very honest conversation.
"Now, we’re starting the Giro where he’s in a position for the overall. I think it’s more exciting for a rider of Geraint’s standing."
Thomas is equally confident of his ability to potentially end up on the podium in Milan wearing the maglia rosa.
"I think one of the favourites probably, there’s a strong field here," he said. "It’s nice when you hear people say you're the favourite but you don't really think about that, just try and get here in good shape and race as well as you can. Hopefully, they're right."
Where does he get this confidence from? Is the next question.
"I won the Tour in 2018, I was second last year. At Tirreno-Adriatico I felt I was getting stronger throughout and the Worlds TT went well," Thomas answered matter of factly, not in the mood to suffer any fools.
Another question comes in reminding Thomas that he hasn't always been so lucky at the Giro, having abandoned the 2017 edition and his highest finish being 80th from two participations earlier in his career before his contender credentials were realised.
Is he concerned about the climbing in the final week? The Ineos rider has the advantage in the time trials against his GC rivals, so they may look to the 15,000 metres of climbing on stages 17, 18 and 20 to hit back.
"I don’t know if you’ve seen the Tour but we do a lot of long climbs there too," Thomas replied drily. "There are obviously going to be tough days, and mountains are where it’s won and lost. But yeah it’s a tough race and I think the weather will add to that if it’s cold or raining. It’s definitely a big challenge and will be an exciting end to the race."
Thomas and Brailsford seem more relaxed than they usually are heading into a Grand Tour they hope to win. That's most likely down to the Tour de France being on its own level in terms of bike race, but let's hope the candidness from the sometimes uptight British team continues throughout the Italian Grand Tour, continuing to hit homers out of stupid questions as they make their way up the Adriatic coast this month.
But also, Ineos' failure to win the 2020 Tour de France must have freed them, they had almost become captive of their own success. Having proved mortal, their appetite for victory will only have increased, and everyone knows hungry dogs run faster.
"I think the Tour is done," Brailsford explained. "When the races come so fast you can't dwell on them, you don't take one race into the next one. You collect all the insights you can get, put them in a box, and come back to them at the end of the season. This race doesn't have any bearing on the one that came before it."
"For me, it's the same as always," Thomas added. "No external pressure from the team...no-one's said anything to me [about having to win] anyway," to which Brailsford shakes his head. "I’ll just worry about myself. A lot of things can happen that are out of your control, what will be will be."
A new, relaxed approach to a Grand Tour from Ineos? It is 2020 after all.
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