Geraint Thomas says “bring it on” to his French rivals as the Tour de France 2019 enters a poised final week.
The reigning Tour champion suffered mixed fortunes in the Pyrenees, but still sits second overall on the second rest day, 1-35 down to unexpected leader Julian Alaphilippe.
Thomas (Team Ineos) may also be forced to defend again another Frenchman, Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), who has clawed his way back into the general classification battle with formidable attacks on the Tourmalet and again on Prat d’Albis.
During the Team Ineos rest day press conference in Nîmes, Thomas was asked about how felt being a British rider fighting against two home favourites heading into the Alps.
He said: “I love it. I relish it. Bring it on. It’s a great position to be in. It’s the biggest bike race in the world and obviously Pinot and Alaphilippe have a lot of support.
Thomas looked set to take over the yellow jersey from Deceuninck – Quick-Step rider Alaphillipe in the second week, with a time trial on stage 13 and the two high-mountain stages immediately following.
But the 27-year-old race leader has stunned everyone, winning the time trial in Pau and further extending his advantage atop the Tourmalet as Thomas cracked.
However, stage 15 to Foix saw a revenant Thomas take back a handful of precious seconds atop Prat d’Albis.
Thomas said: “Now going into the Alps that I feel motivated to get there and really try and finish this Tour off well. It’s slightly up and down this year, compared to last year. The main thing for me is that I finished strong yesterday and I’m really just itching to go now. I much prefer the Alps. I’ve got a lot of better memories there for obvious reasons. I’m looking forward to it.
“On the Tourmalet I wasn’t feeling 100 per cent but I think it was more a fuelling thing over a few days rather than anything else. Yesterday I finished really strongly, so it’s not an issue. If that is my bad day to lose 30 seconds on the Tourmalet it’s a pretty good day really.”
Stage 15 was another thrilling day in the overall narrative, as Thibaut Pinot attacked approaching the summit finish for a second consecutive day and took back more time, while Alaphilippe made a tactical error and followed Pinot only to crack with 5km to race.
After pacing his effort, Thomas overtook Alaphilippe on the road and pulled back 27 seconds.
Thomas said: “I said on the approach to the final climb I wasn’t feeling 100 per cent but as it turned out I was feeling really good by the end.
“In hindsight, I could have gone earlier, but that’s the only frustrating bit from my point of view is I could have gained a bit more time if I’d have gone a little bit earlier. I think the most important thing is I felt really good in the final at the hardest point in the race and I had some really good legs. I’m really looking forward to the Alps now.”