Geraint Thomas started the day fourth on general classification at the Tour de France. Geraint Thomas ended the day fourth on general classification. However, that is far from the whole story.
The Ineos Grenadiers rider finished fourth on a critical Alpine stage which saw Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) dropped decisively by his rivals for the first time at the Grand Tour.
Thomas was one of the fortunate few who took advantage of the bad day had by Pogačar on stage 11 of the Tour, as the Slovenian cracked on the Col du Granon, conceding time to his rivals, which included Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma), who climbed into the yellow jersey, and Thomas.
It was a shock to see the race leader distanced like that. While Thomas could not hang with the fierce pace set by Vingegaard in front, and also finished behind Romain Bardet (Team DSM) and Nairo Quintana (Arkéa Samsic), he showed his tenacity, and put 1-13 into Pogačar, who he had trailed by 1-17 going into the stage.
The whole day was an epic, with Thomas at one point alone in a group with Vingegaard, Pogačar and Bardet at the bottom of the Galibier. While the leaders came back together, it set the tone for a busy day.
"We expected it to go off a bit, and it really did," Thomas said post-stage. "Jumbo were super strong and they had a clear plan. I expected it to be tough on the Col du Télegraphe and the Col du Galibier, but I didn't quite expect it to turn it how it was, with just four of us doing some 30-30s at the bottom of the Galibier.
"I was feeling alright, I just tried to let them play around themselves, and I would have preferred to be in that group behind to be honest, cos it was always going to come back. You never though though, so you had to be there.
"As I say, it was a solid day, hard effort out there, and on that last climb it was just getting up it as quickly as you could. I didn't expect Pogačar to crack like he did, but yeah a decent day out for us."
"The one thing you know for G is that he’s a real stayer, he plays the long game," is how Ineos Grenadiers' deputy team principal Rod Ellingworth put it. "He’ll be pretty strong after that. Mentally he’ll be strong. He’s been in a good place since the beginning of the bike race."
The Welshman now trails Pogačar by just four seconds, and is ten seconds behind Bardet. He is therefore close to the podium, although he is 2-26 behind Vingegaard.
"Vingegaard has a clear advantage now, but I'm 10 seconds off Bardet, Pogačar is right there in amongst it," Thomas said. "Quintana, Yates is still there. It's all to play for.
"Obviously, Vingegaard is super strong, Jumbo are super strong, but as you saw with Pogačar, nobody expected that today. So you never know with Vingegaard. We've got to keep getting in the mix and see how it goes."
"It was a good day for the team really," Ellingworth explained. "Especially for Geraint, the way that he rode. He’s a smart guy isn’t he, never put himself in the red, kept himself at his own pace, and I think he’s done a good ride. He’s dropped down to fourth on GC, but on the grand scheme of things I think it’s a good position."
If Pogačar's woes continue, Thomas is in the perfect place to pounce, while Bardet is untested this high up on GC at Grand Tours in recent years. It is not a bad situation for Ineos to be in.
"I think you can never not watch the guy [Bardet] because he's a gutsy bike rider isn't he," Ellingworth said.
"He's always in up for the fight so I think G won't let him just ride away with nothing, you know. I think obviously there's the time trial advantage G would have. There’s two or three different things there to think about."
Meanwhile, Thomas' teammate Adam Yates dropped down a place on the general classification, being overtaken by Quintana, but he still put 41 seconds in Pogačar, and is just under 40 seconds behind the former heading to Alpe d'Huez.
"Adam did well, I haven’t seen him exactly, but he had some kind of trouble on the Col du Télegraphe, but he’s clawed his way back up as well," Ellingworth said. "An all round good ride. What a day of bike racing, I’m sure that’s what everyone wanted to see."
It was indeed quite the day, one which saw something some onlookers thought would never happen: a Pogačar crack, which was reportedly down to a lack of food and Jumbo-Visma's attacking strategy.
"I didn't think Pogačar would go like he did," Ellingworth said. "I thought it'd be a bit later in the race. We've been saying all along, he's only human.
"I never thought it would go like that. I mean obviously I thought that at some point Jumbo were going to use their strength in numbers on the climbs.
"I thought that's what Pogačar was going to do, try and slim the group down but I think he really isolated himself. I'm sure they'll be some lessons learned from that, for them for them boys tonight. This isn't him over."
It might not be him over, but it did show something new, a chink in the Slovenian's armour. It was Vingegaard who stabbed him, made the attack, but there were many riders who took advantage of it.
Tomorrow brings another challenge, Alpe d'Huez, which might test Pogačar some more if he's still off his usual top form.
"There’s a long way to go," Ellingworth concluded. "Tomorrow is going to be a tough day to recover after today so I think that’s going to be the key thing now. Who’s going to recover best. There’s going to be some sore legs out there tomorrow."
Sore legs, and sore minds.
Thank you for reading 20 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