Tour de France
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Losing Rowe ‘not ideal’ for Thomas’s Tour de France defense

Thomas loses a key domestique leading into three decisive stages in the Alps.

EMBRUN, France (VN) — Losing a key domestique is “not ideal” said Geraint Thomas (Ineos) as he tries to defend his Tour de France title in the final stages through the Alps.

Ineos helper Luke Rowe and Tony Martin (Jumbo-Visma) were both kicked out of the race by the jury for pushing and shoving each other in stage 17 to Gap. They finished the stage, but hours later, they were told to go home.

“It’s not ideal but you’ve just got to deal with it now and move on, and take the day as it comes,” Thomas said at the start of stage 18. “Obviously we’ll miss him, but we’ve lost riders in past Tours as well. We’ll focus on the day ahead now.”

Many expect Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step) to fade out of the yellow jersey in the three Alpine stages starting today. Thomas sits second overall at 1:35 and Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) is third at 1:47.

Thomas must now rely on six teammates to control the race. Kruijswijk, who lost Wout Van Aert in stage 13 and now Martin, is down to five.

“Last night, [Rowe] just messaged me saying he had to have a meeting with the commissaires and he wasn’t allowed to race,” Thomas said. “Obviously, Luke’s key role is in the start for days like today. Everyone has to be a bit more attentive and on it on who’s in the breaks and so on.”

Martin, a four-time world time trial champion, fills a similar role for Kruijswijk. Both Rowe and Martin would pull along the flat kilometers and in the early moments of the climbs.

“I think collectively everyone feels it was a harsh decision,” said Ineos boss David Brailsford. “Even more so now having really looked at the incident and listened to both riders, and spoken to my counterpart at [Jumbo-Visma]. I think there’s the spirit of the law and the actual application of the law. Sometimes a little bit of context doesn’t go amiss.”

Thomas will have to rely more on Jonathan Castroviejo, Michal Kwiatkowski, and Gianni Moscon in the earlier moments of the remaining stages. The Tour jury sent home Moscon in 2018 for throwing a punch at another cyclist.

“The key thing is not to allow this to be a distraction,” Brailsford added. “Focus on what we have to do. We still have to race with seven guys, and make sure everyone is 100 percent engaged with that.”