Team Sky‚Äôs Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome put time into several of their GC rivals on the Tour de France stage to Mende, with both riders finishing alongside key rival Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb). At the finish, Thomas stressed that both he and Froome needed to race together instead of against each other, while the Welshman ‚Äď for the first time in this year‚Äôs race ‚Äď began to hint at being more of a leader than a back-up to Froome.
Thomas currently leads Froome ‚Äď the defending champion and four-time winner ‚Äď by 1:39, while Dumoulin sits third, a further 11 seconds back. The trio matched each other on the final climb of the Croix Neuve, although Thomas and Dumoulin put in the more vicious accelerations that distanced the rest of the GC group.
Since moving into the yellow jersey at La Rosiere, Thomas has faced questions over roadside behaviour, retiring Welsh rugby players and anti-doping, but each of his post-stage press conferences has been dominated by questions about the position he and Froome occupy in GC.
In order to win the race, Froome must either attack his teammate or Thomas must collapse in the Pyrenees. The latter scenario is perhaps the most likely, given the Welshman‚Äôs lack of experience in leading a team over three weeks, but with each passing day he becomes more comfortable and more entrenched in the maillot jaune.
The questions about leadership once again dominated at Mende, and the Welshman is slowly changing the language he is using. On the first rest day it was all about Froome, and Thomas said that he would reconsider the situation if he was in yellow after Alpe d‚ÄôHuez. That came and went, and at the time Thomas reiterated that Froome was the number one leader. Today we saw a slightly different script.
‚ÄúEach day is different, and we‚Äôll take it as it comes. We‚Äôll get through tomorrow and have a plan for the first Pyrenees stage. The main thing is that we win and that we don‚Äôt end up racing against each other and Dumoulin wins. Then we‚Äôd look really stupid,‚ÄĚ Thomas said.
‚ÄúI‚Äôve said it before, it‚Äôs the first time I‚Äôve raced for three weeks as a GC leader. So it‚Äôs a bit of an unknown and it‚Äôs the same for Dumoulin and Froome, they‚Äôve done the Giro so we don‚Äôt know what will happen with them. It‚Äôs just a great position that we‚Äôre in as a team.‚ÄĚ
If this was the first time Thomas had named himself as a leader he was certainly backing up those words with a measured ride towards Mende. He rode the wheels, didn‚Äôt panic when Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) escaped Team Sky‚Äôs clutches and more than matched his key rivals when hostilities began.
‚ÄúObviously it was tough, but it was pretty good,” he said. “I wasn‚Äôt sure what to expect because that sort of climb is relatively easy going into the bottom and then you have a big explosion. We can be satisfied with how it went.‚ÄĚ
Thomas has taken the last few days in his stride. The final week remains a journey into the unknown, but he compared the pressure of racing on the track to his current predicament.
‚ÄúTo be honest, this is a lot less stressful,” he said. “I‚Äôm just enjoying being in yellow. I‚Äôm honestly thinking about day by day, and I‚Äôm not thinking too far ahead. When you compare this to getting up for the Olympic Team Pursuit final in London, where you‚Äôve had four years of hard work and three of your mates are relying on you to do your job and it‚Äôs won by tenths of a second, that‚Äôs pressure. This is different and it‚Äôs more sustained. With Froome in second place, it takes the pressure off as well. If something happens to me, then we‚Äôd still have him in the race.
‚ÄúI‚Äôm still just going day by day. It‚Äôs going really well at the moment and we just don‚Äôt know. We have three big days in the Pyrenees to come, plus a time trial. We‚Äôll see.‚ÄĚ