Team Sky had hoped stage 6 would be a chance for Geraint Thomas to take five seconds in the general classification and don the Tour de France’s yellow jersey. The British team also hoped to keep Chris Froome from losing time in the overall.
Sky came up short on both counts during Thursday’s frantic finale up the Mur de Bretagne. Thomas finished alongside race leader Greg Van Avermaet in the first big group, and Froome was gapped, rolling across the line five seconds in arrears. Both men could not hold the pace of stage winner Dan Martin (UAE Team Emirates).
At the finish line, both Froome and Thomas downplayed the result.
“The guys were trying to set me up to stay even on time and set up Geraint [Thomas] to get bonuses and maybe the yellow jersey — it’s a shame that we didn’t do either one of those things,” Froome said. The four-time defending Tour champion followed the comments up with laughter, indicating that he did not deem the losses to be substantial.
“I lost a bit of time, but it was very explosive there in the end,” he said. “It’s only a bit of time and there is still a long way to go in this Tour.”
Sky appeared motivated to win a result for its team leaders in the waning kilometers of the 181km stage from Brest to the Mur de Bretagne. Four Sky riders surged to the front of the peloton with 3km remaining, and domestique Michal Kwiatkowski pulled the peloton into the base of the final climb.
Thomas surged to the front on the climb’s opening slope, and initially marked Martin’s acceleration. After a few pedal strokes, Thomas pulled off the front and allowed Richie Porte (BMC Racing) to pick up the chase.
After the finish Thomas said he “tried to play it a bit too late.”
“Unfortunately didn’t get any seconds on the line but yeah there we go,” Thomas said. “It was hard, it was solid. Dan [Martin] went, I started to go but I saw everyone was on me so I was like, ‘Ah let them do it.’ Dan was strong so fair play.”
Thomas was ninth in the dash to the line and Froome finished 18th.
Thomas did manage to earn two bonus seconds at an intermediate sprint at Saint-Mayeux, which boosted him to second place overall, just three seconds back on Van Avermaet. After Jack Bauer (Mitchelton-Scott) attacked the peloton Thomas snuck off the front just before the sprint line to grab the valuable time.
A gap could have placed Thomas back into the yellow jersey for the second time in as many years. In 2017 Thomas spent four stages in yellow after winning the opening time trial.
“In the final, I played it a bit too late. By the time 200 meters was coming, Valverde went, and I knew I wasn’t going to beat him for third. So I just stayed where I was,” Thomas added. “Yeah save that one percent for another day.”
Although the race has yet to take on the high mountains, Thomas said the frenetic pace and frequent crashes have added up to make for a tough first week.
“The day, in general, was hard, you know, hot, always fighting for position, 2,000 altitude meters [of climbing],” he said. “Yesterday was a hard day as well. It’s taken its toll.”
Although Sky was unable to capitalize on this first climb — albeit a minor hill — Thomas says the opportunities will keep cropping up, and Sky will be ready to make the most of them.
“It’s one of those weeks,” he said. “It’s just more trying to ride like we have been all week, stay at the front, stay out of trouble. And try to take any opportunity.”
Andrew Hood and Dane Cash contributed to this report from Mur de Bretagne, France.