Geraint Thomas wasn’t defeated, but he was accepting of reality. Bar disaster for him or the two riders in front of him, third place at the 2022 Tour de France is within his grasp.
But his chances of a second win appear vanishingly small.
The Welshman had battled on smartly and doggedly to take fourth on the race’s first big visit to the high Pyrenees but he was left behind by UAE Emirates rider Brandon McNulty’s strong pace setting on the Col de Val Louron-Azet.
“It’s hard now isn’t it,” he said when asked if he could move up the GC rankings at the finish line. “I don’t know how far down I was, something like two minutes and they’re super strong as we know but it’s nice to be in the mix.”
The 2018 Tour champion’s gap to the yellow jersey is now 4-56, with Tadej Pogačar in second slightly closer at 2-38 up the standings, while his advantage over Nairo Quintana in fourth place is 2-57.
Asked if he could feel comfortable in third spot now, the Ineos Grenadiers leader said: “It's obviously a decent advantage, but we've seen everyone's had pretty bad days, apart from Vingegaard at the moment, well and myself I haven't had a super bad day yet. Hopefully I can continue to ride as I am and hopefully it will solidify that place. But tomorrow, we'll see.”
Stage 17 was Thomas’s worst day so far in terms of the time lost to the front two but even then he gained on all those behind him in the GC pecking order. Having been dropped on the penultimate climb of the day he joined up with a following group for the ride to the foot of the final climb to Peyragudes before fending off an attack from Romain Bardet (DSM) and then leaving everyone behind to place fourth on the day.
Ineos Grenadiers sports director Steve Cummings added: “You can't really have that [racing for third] mindset. I think it's just doing the best that we can and then let's see what that that brings us….But yeah, something would have to happen, at the moment, to change things.”
Thomas said he wasn’t feeling “tip top” today. “I made the call to wait for group behind rather than try and battle on and go into the red to get back to that group and risk blowing up and then maybe losing even more time,” he said.
He was full of admiration for three-time U23 time trial World Champion Mikkel Bjerg (UAE Emirates) who had done a big turn at the bottom of the Col de Val Louron-Azet putting many of Pogačar’s rivals into trouble. “He put in a hell of a shift for the rider he is,” he said before adding that the Slovenian deserved the win for his depleted team taking the race on aggressively.
“Fair play to whatever they had for breakfast,” he said about the Middle Eastern-backed squad.
He said he had no particular strategy he’d look to employ in the final mountain test other than trying to keep his legs feeling fresh and strong. “I think we’ll just continue to do all we're doing, doing the basics, trying to hydrate and eat well. Although I'm sick of it now, it's mad how you can even get sick of drinking,” he said.
Thomas may have been forced to lower his sights from the top step by the form on display form Pogačar and Vingegaard but he’s shown he is in a class of one behind those two exceptional riders. One suspects he can take some pleasure in that.
Ineos Grenadiers suffer
While Thomas had a sub-par day his fellow Ineos front-runners faired worse.
Adam Yates lost even more time than Thomas on stage 17 and slipped down the GC rankings to ninth.
The Bury-born rider has, Cummings revealed, been suffering with a respiratory illness that has been sweeping through the Ineos Grenadiers camp. Dani Martinez and Jonathan Castroviejo have both had a similar illness, which he assured us was not Covid, and been on antibiotics throughout the race hoping to come back from it.
Meanwhile, Tom Pidcock who had held onto a top ten place until stage 17, also slipped down to 15th. Cummings said as far he was aware Pidcock wasn’t sick. “It's his first Tour de France and just needs to keep it in perspective, really,” he said. “He's won a massive stage. He did a lot of work for the team in the first week. And he's been faultless, really.”
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