Geraint Thomas (Ineos) has said that returning to the Tour de France as defending champion has been a much more "intense" experience, one that has been amplified by the absence of team-mate and fellow Tour winner Chris Froome.
Speaking on his new podcast (opens in new tab) with fellow Welshman and Ineos rider Luke Rowe, the pair discuss the opening week of the Tour, sharing the frustrations and anxieties of being involved in the biggest race of the year.
"It's been stressful, but as a first week of the Tour it's the best I've ever done," said Luke Rowe, who as Ineos' road captain is often tasked with guiding the squad through a hazardous first week of fast racing and crashes.
"I just s**t myself every time with 3km to go," Thomas adds, "and you're sat behind the sprinters and they are these big guys bouncing around, chopping each other, throwing their bikes. You've got to stay in their slipstream, but you're thinking you just want to get to the finish in one piece.
"Especially after stage one, when I did have a buffer but ended up toppling over...you just dread those finishes."
The stresses on the bike don't necessarily end as soon as the peloton crosses the finish line, with Thomas saying the added media attention at this year's race following his surprise Tour victory in 2018 has been intense.
Thomas said: "I've boycotted- I don't list to journalists anyway, they've got a right...[Rowe interrupts: 'chip on their shoulder'] something, haven't they, to make a story. A lot was made of [me losing time to Egan Bernal on stage three], and then a lot was made of mine and Egan's leadership.
"It was a little mistake from me, suddenly because I'm a second behind the back rider, which was actually Egan, and they give the time to Michael Matthews (Sunweb) who is five seconds up the road so you lose five seconds, which is a bit frustrating."
Rowe added: "In the cycling world, stories like that will get written but when it's the Tour de France, you're the defending champ, Egan is co-leader with you, he's in the front split, it just gets blown out of proportion, everyone's questioning your form."
"It's the first week, there's not a lot going on, that's the biggest change from last year, when Froomey's been here before and I haven't been the reigning champ, I get half the questions," the 2018 Tour winner said.
Thomas revealed that frustration with the media questioning his form was part of the reason he decided to lay down a marker on stage six's summit finish on La Planche des Belles Filles, where he finished fourth, taking time out of all of his GC rivals.
"No-one gave a s**t before, now it's so much more intense. I want to stop swearing but it's bulls**t. People trying to make stories, journalists trying to over-analyse and be too clever. That's why it was good to put a marker down and put everyone in their places."
Despite this flash of frustration, Thomas then returned to his usual wry self, saying "this is another reason why we're doing this podcast, so we don't have to speak to journalists any more."
Thomas currently sits fifth on GC at the 2019 Tour de France, four seconds ahead of team-mate Egan Bernal and trailing Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) by 19 seconds.
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Hi. I'm Cycling Weekly's Weekend Editor. I like writing offbeat features and eating too much bread when working out on the road at bike races.
Before joining Cycling Weekly I worked at The Tab and I've also written for Vice, Time Out, and worked freelance for The Telegraph (I know, but I needed the money at the time so let me live).
I also worked for ITV Cycling between 2011-2018 on their Tour de France and Vuelta a España coverage. Sometimes I'd be helping the producers make the programme and other times I'd be getting the lunches. Just in case you were wondering - Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen had the same ham sandwich every day, it was great.
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