'We've got cards to play and the legs to do it' was Geraint Thomas's statement of intent as the Ineos Grenadiers team looks ahead to a mountainous weekend in the Tour de France.
He was talking after stage seven to Super Planche des Belles Filles on Friday, which saw Tadej Pogacar (UAE-Team Emirates) win his second consecutive stage on the ultra-steep gravel finish, lunging past Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) in the final metres.
Geraint Thomas was best of the Ineos riders, coming in fifth at 14 seconds just behind third-placed Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) and hapless breakaway Lennard Kämna (Bora-Hansgrohe).
But Ineos Grenadiers maintained strength in numbers to the end, with Adam Yates ninth and an impressive Tour de France summit finish debut from Tom Pidcock (who was borrowing the white jersey from Pogacar for the day), who finished 14th.
It means the British team still has four riders in the top-10 overall: Thomas third at 1.10, Yates fourth at 1.18, and Pidcock seventh at 1.35.
"It gives us some cards to play, but we need to use them at the right time as well," Thomas said. "And you've got to have the legs to do it — but we seem to at the minute. So hopefully, opportunity can arise and we can try and use those numbers."
Thomas seemed satisfied with his performance, pointing out that the steep finish meant it wasn't a climb that suited him as well as some.
"I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but in 2019 I went quite well up there and yeah, today as well," he said. "I think I managed to ride it quite well, not go too deep too early — that last 300 metres felt like a couple of minutes, I can be happy with how I went today."
Yates was philosophical after finishing the stage ninth at 29 seconds, losing position as the gravel road steepened. The surface, he said, didn't suit his pedalling style.
"We got to the bottom of the climb in a position. On the tarmac I it was actually okay, I felt good. But then, for me personally, I like to get out of the saddle quite a lot and use a big gear and when you try and do that on a surface like this [gravel] you don't go very fast.
He added: "G's still up there, flying… we're still in the mix. I know it's quite a big gap but you know, it's a long Tour."
As for Pogacar, who might have been expected to put major time into his GC rivals today, Thomas said: "He won today, but at least he's not two minutes up the road. He's riding really well. I think everyone senses a little vulnerability and his team. They're obviously still riding really well, but there's a few creaks in there. And yeah, we've got numbers, Jumbo have obviously got numbers… there's two weeks to go and a hell of a lot of bike racing."
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After cutting his teeth on local and national newspapers, James began at Cycling Weekly as a sub-editor in 2000 when the current office was literally all fields.
Eventually becoming chief sub-editor, in 2016 he switched to the job of full-time writer, and covers news, racing and features.
A lifelong cyclist and cycling fan, James's racing days (and most of his fitness) are now in the past, although that doesn't stop him banging on tirelessly about "that one time" he nearly rode a 20-minute '10', and planning the big comeback that everyone knows will never actually happen.
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