Geraint Thomas is the boss at Team Ineos as he rides the 2019 Tour de France to defend his 2018 title, according to former team-mate and current rival Mikel Landa (Movistar).
Thomas began as Ineos' only former Tour winner after Chris Froome's crash and broken femur, but Ineos selected 22-year-old Egan Bernal as co-leader among their eight-man roster. As the stages tick by, however, Thomas looks consistent and ready to defend his title.
On the Planche des Belles Filles climb, Thomas blasted up to and ahead of Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick - Step), gaining time on his general classification rivals. A sign, perhaps, of things to come in the Pyrenees and Alps.
"It was a strange climb and the classification contenders only moved in the last kilometre. It's hard to make too many conclusions, but it's clear that Thomas is strong," Landa explained.
"The thing that stood out the most is that Thomas is very good. It's been awhile since we've seen him like this but he's confirmed he's the rider to beat."
Thomas's run to the Tour de France has not been simple. The Welshman admitted he celebrated his victory well into the winter and carried extra weight. He showed his punch in the Tour de Romandie, but a crash forced him out of the Tour de Suisse early and another crash on the first stage of the Tour raised eyebrows for some.
Without Froome and with Thomas's ride on La Planche des Belles Filles, some think differently about his chance to defend his title.
"For Thomas, we'll see if it's different for him because he is now the clear leader. He won last year, and it's obvious he is in very good shape. He is like last year," Landa added.
"Ineos is not the same without Froome. Froome was the last four-time winner, he was very strong. Froome never failed. They are also very strong now, so we will see.
"They have Thomas and Bernal, it's going to be very difficult. We saw small differences. It is still a long Tour. Anything can happen."
The Basque rider hopes that he achieves at least a podium in this year's race. Riding for Team Sky, he finished just one second off the podium in 2017. In 2018, he joined Movistar and worked alongside Nairo Quintana. On stage six of the 2019 Tour, before Thomas started riding away from his rivals in the final metres, Landa had attacked and looked strong.
The Spaniard now sits 54 seconds behind Thomas in the overall classification. "Day by day, we're all going well, there are still not big differences between the favourites. The Pyrenees will be a different story," Landa said.
"It's true that we are closer than in other years, it's all still very close for the overall battle. The race is still wide open.
"It's obvious that the [stage 13 Pau] time trial is not in our favour, but we have to defend as well as we can. Right now we feel good, and we can aspire to reach the podium, and who knows – maybe more."
Landa comes to the Tour after riding the Giro d'Italia, where he rode to fourth overall. He lost the podium spot in the final day's time trial, finishing eight seconds behind Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) in third.
"We'll see how the Giro affects me," he continued. "It doesn't worry me right now because I finished the Giro well and I am good coming into the Tour. It's obvious that we have to attack to make up the time."
Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access
Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1
*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription
Join now for unlimited access
Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1