Geraint Thomas (Ineos) received the confirmation he needed on La Planche des Belles Filles, the first summit finish of the 2019 Tour de France.
Thomas is returning to defend his 2018 title but suffered a setback with a Tour de Suisse crash and a crash on the first day of the Tour in Brussels.
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“I knew I was going well, but having not raced the Tour de Suisse, you don’t know how good you are compared to everyone else,” Thomas said. “I knew I had some decent legs but this is conformation today that they are pretty good.”
That confirmation serves the Welshman well as he races ahead in the Tour de France, with many more mountains stages to come and a young 22-year-old team-mate Egan Bernal who also has a chance.
“Not really for me, but maybe for everyone else who was questioning me,” Thomas continued about racing the doubts.
“But I stay away from all that now and stay in my own little bubble, talk to my wife about the dog and the house in Cardiff or whatever, and leave all the talk to everyone else.”
In 2017, Thomas slipped out of the yellow jersey on the Planche des Belles Filles while Chris Froome worked his way to the eventual overall lead.
“Thanks for reminding me!” Thomas said with a laugh. “It was a lot better than that day for sure.”
This year, the climb included an extra one kilometre at the top with gravel. Thomas used that section to power ahead to Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-QuickStep), who had attacked in the yellow jersey.
Ahead, Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida) won the stage and when the calculations were made, Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) took the lead from Alaphilippe.
“[Bernal and I] both knew we just had to pace it,” Thomas said. “When Alaphilippe went we didn’t get carried away. He just came past and kept it rolling a bit. we just both knew, just 350ish to go, just pace it from there to the line. It felt my legs were going by the end as well. TT was a tough finish.”
Thomas, though, was the best of the classification contenders by finishing fourth. He now leads with four seconds on Bernal, nine on Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) and 15 on Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma).
“A climb like that wouldn’t be my cup of tea, it suits the punchy guys so that’s good for the morale,” Thomas said.
“Everyone was looking pretty good, Richie Porte looked strong, I didn’t see Adam Yates, but I think he was there. Everyone was good, but like I say, it’s still early days. I knew it wouldn’t be a decisive day, but the first little test to see how everyone would go.
“It was a good start, but it’s only stage six. If you look at the TT. Every day after that is a big day bar two. So there is a lot of racing to come.”