Fresh off the back of an altitude training camp in Tenerife, Geraint Thomas (Ineos) has said he is “more confident than ever” that he will be able to defend his Tour de France title, as he returns to the competitive form that saw him on the top step of the Champs-Élysées podium last July.
On the start-line in Brussels next month the Welshman will line-up against rivals such as Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb), Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott), Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), and Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma), not to mention team-mate and four-time winner Chris Froome.
After a period off the bike, celebrating and soaking in the afterglow that comes with being a Tour de France winner, Thomas admits in an interview with The Telegraph that he was “definitely coming back slowly” to Grand Tour winning form.
The 33-year-old began his 2019 season finishing 44th in the Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana, which he concedes reflects the fact he was still overweight after the off season, and put in perspective the journey back to Tour-conquering form that he needed to take.
Thomas now says he is only a kilogram off his optimum racing weight of 67kg as he starts preparing for the Tour de Suisse, his preparatory stage race before the Tour de France 2019.
After this, a 40th place finish at the Tour of the Basque Country preceded a third place podium spot at the Tour de Romandie last month.
“I just didn’t want to rush it and then overdo it,” Thomas says, explaining the slow build in his performances. “But yeah, I would say it’s all worked out well now. Obviously Romandie was nice to get a little result – a boost for the confidence. I think we’re all on track now.”
After his Romandie result, where Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) finished 1-12 ahead to claim the victory, Thomas decamped to Tenerife for a two-week stretch at altitude.
A number of the Ineos riders have done similar, with altitude training now a key part of Grand Tour preparations for many riders, and Chris Froome’s strava data on Mount Tiede is a case in point for the sort of form his rivals will bring as they try to thwart Thomas’ title defence.
“[I’m] more confident than ever, though whether that will be enough we will see,” says Thomas. “Everyone’s improving. The competition is definitely tougher this year. I think there are a lot of guys who could potentially podium.”
After a few months of enjoying his increased profile, the return to training came as welcome respite for Thomas, who says he naturally wanted to return to competition despite having achieved the biggest accolade in the sport.
“By the start of last November, even though I still had three weeks of doing appearances, I was itching to get back on the bike,” he says. “That’s when I knew I’d be ok. Because I didn’t want to be doing that anymore.”
Which Grand Tour winner Team Ineos will back in France remains to be seen, with Thomas saying he believes a dual leadership approach would be fair, but nothing has been set in stone yet.
With riders such as Egan Bernal, as well as burgeoning young talents Pavel Sivakov and Tao Geoghegan Hart, there is certainly no drought of GC talent at Team Ineos, and whether it is Froome or Thomas who ends up leader of the British outfit on the road in July, they will surely take some beating.