Former world champion and classics star Tom Boonen has named Geraint Thomas as his favourite to win the Tour de France thanks to the Welshman’s strong Ineos team and willpower.
Thomas, after winning in 2018, leads Ineos in the 2019 edition with Colombian Egan Bernal. Boonen, watching his progression since they were rivals in the classics, tips the 33 year old for the title.
“I have Geraint Thomas on my list,” Boonen told Cycling Weekly.
“He didn’t have a flawless preparation, but it doesn’t mean a lot. He has the experience, he has the will. He has the peace of mind. He’s already won one. That changes a lot with the team he has and the capability he has. He’s a big favourite.”
Thomas was due to lead the race with Chris Froome until the four-time winner crashed while doing a recon for the Critérium du Dauphiné time trial.
“Everyone is talking about an open Tour de France, but the only thing that changes is that Chris isn’t there. The machine that was controlling everything is exactly the same, so I don’t know where they get it,” Boonen continued.
“I am also hoping for it, but don’t think it’ll happen. The team is still super strong and Geraint can also profit from that and he won’t suffer as much as the other guys in the last week because he has that team.”
In 2010, Boonen began to take note of Thomas during the classics season, with Sky making a big push in the spring races with him, Ian Stannard and Luke Rowe. Thomas rode well in the Monuments but with his track background faired better in the stage races once he made the switch.
“I’m impressed. Everyone knew he had a lot of capabilities, of course, having capabilities and winning a Grand Tour is a little bit different, but I don’t think anyone was really surprised that he could do it,” Boonen continued.
“Like we said about Bradley Wiggins, if you focus as a Grand Tour specialist, especially with the bodies they have, they are not pure climbers, but super strong guys with a good time trial, you can also win in the classics, or try to win.
“Geraint did it the other way around than what Bradley did. Bradley tried every thing a bit in the beginning of his career and went really good in stage racing, and then tried to win Paris-Roubaix at the end of his career. Geraint went first in the classics and evaluated it though the years, doing some small stage races and some big ones after.”
This year, the Tour route leans more on the mountains than time trials, with the final three stages before Paris being serious mountain days.
“This year is a little bit different, it’s really hard in the last four to five days and that suits Thomas better,” Boonen said.
“He has shown a lot of stamina and a lot of ability to recover well for the last week. He has a super good team as well.”
Boonen, retired since 2017, works at the Tour for Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws and broadcaster VTM.
“Life is pretty good, I found my second passion in motor sports, I started racing again one month after car racing. It really helps me stay on top of my game, it needs focus and it needs training,” Boonen said, still looking fit enough to win a Monument.
“I think it’s very important after a career of 20 years in any sport that you have objectives in life. Now my year’s still in parts in preparing for racing, so it’s quite the same, just different material. The big objective is to go to race Le Mans, I’m trying to do that in two years.”