Tour de France 2020

Commentary: Ineos Grenadiers will regret leaving Geraint Thomas off Tour de France squad

David Brailsford's decision to leave Geraint Thomas home from the 2020 Tour de France will doom Team Ineos Grenadiers. Thomas has the experience and savvy that could have helped the young squad thrive in this unorthodox Tour.

I cannot claim ownership of today’s flamin’ hot take on Team Ineos Grenadiers and Geraint Thomas. That distinction goes to my VeloNews Podcast co-host Jens Voigt, who energetically shared this opinion on a phone call several days before the race even began.

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“Geraint Thomas is their good-luck charm,” Jens said excitedly. “They are crazy to leave him at home!”

The more I mulled over Jens’ perspective, the more I agreed with him. I’ve added a few of my own brain nuggets to the take, but hey, full transparency: Jens Voigt masterminded this one.

OK — on to the take.

What do the  2013, 2015-2019 Tours de France have in common?

If your answer is that they were all won by Team Sky/Ineos, then yes, you are correct. (Editor’s note: an earlier version included the 2012 Tour de France on this list, but Thomas was not on Team Sky’s Tour de France squad that year)

Guess what? These fine vintage editions have another thing in common: In all seven editions, Geraint Thomas played a key role in the victory. OK, OK — sticklers will point out that he did abandon the 2017 Tour on stage 9 while he was in second place overall. My counter is that he still won a stage and played a strong backup to Chris Froome before he crashed and quit.

You get my point, right?

Thomas has been a member of every single Sky/Ineos victory at the Tour de France. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

As we all know, Geraint Thomas is not at this year’s Tour de France after his Ineos Grenadiers manager David Brailsford decided to leave him at home. It’s my opinion that Brailsford’s decision on Thomas spells doom to the squad’s attempt to win this Tour de France. Ineos will lose this race, and Thomas’ absence will unquestionably contribute to the defeat.

There, I said it.

No, this take has nothing to do with luck or fairy dust or some intangible quality that Thomas has with the world’s biggest bike race. He’s not, as Jens insisted, just a good-luck charm. Rather, Thomas is a leader, a veteran, and the most experienced person on the Team Ineos Grenadiers bus — qualities that the squad sorely needs for this highly unorthodox Tour de France.

Let’s go back a few weeks. I felt like the announcement of Thomas’ omission from the Tour squad was overshadowed by the headline-grabbing news that Chris Froome would stay home as well. To be perfectly honest, I totally understood the Froome half of Brailsford’s decision. Kudos to Froome for rebounding from a crash that would have resigned most of us to a wheelchair or crutches. His amazing recovery is a testament to the wonders of modern medicine, and also his own will to bounce back.

But, as we all saw at the Critérium du Dauphiné, Froome just didn’t have it. He was nowhere close to being ready for the Tour. He was dropped, again and again, before the GC men even broke a sweat. Leaving him off the team made sense.

The Thomas omission was more of a head-scratcher. Sure, he was more than a few watts slower than the big contenders at the Dauphiné, and he openly told reporters that he was behind schedule in his Tour de France build-up. Maybe an extra kilogram here, a missed interval session there — he didn’t sound worried about his Tour de France preparation.

Of course I have zero access to Thomas’ power files, which maybe tell a more definitive story for leaving him at home. All I know is from what I saw at the Dauphiné: Thomas was strong enough to ride the front on the climb to Col de Porte on stage 2, and he finished back in the field on stage 3, alongside Rigoberto Urán, Alejandro Valverde, and a few other Tour de France stars.

Thomas was mediocre, but not bad.

Here’s my question: Isn’t a mediocre Geraint Thomas, with his veteran savvy, better than a good Tour de France newbie? Especially given the odd nature of this Tour de France, with all of the uncertainty due to COVID-19, the unorthodox course, and the oppressive strength of Jumbo-Visma? All respect paid to Pavel Sivakov, who is undoubtedly a grand tour star in the making. I want nothing more than for Sivakov to one day win all of the sport’s biggest races.

I’m no director sportif, but I do agree with Jens’ opinion here. Bringing an undercooked Thomas to the weirdest Tour in the last 50 years makes more sense than putting a Tour rookie under the microscope.

Thomas has raced the Tour de France 10 times, and he’s seen plenty of wild and wacky moments at the race, from, heat and hail, to massive pileups, to protests and controversy. Thomas was there in 2014 when Froome crashed out and the team had to radically change its entire focus for the race. He was there last year when the most important stage of the entire race was called off due to hail.

And, of course, he was there in 2018 when he overcame the emotional pressures of inter-squad leadership fighting to win the race outright.

My assumption is that experiences like these would give Thomas the been-there, done-that confidence to help Bernal cope with Jumbo-Visma’s brute-like strength in these early stages. My guess is Thomas’ experience would give him the cool head after a painful defeat. And I assume that his experience might help him stay cool and focused during — oh, let’s just say — a freak downpour and a crash-filled opening stage.

Crashes, of course, can happen to any rider on any stage. Geraint Thomas could have easily smacked the asphalt on Saturday. Call me crazy: I just don’t see Thomas suffering the same fate as poor Sivakov, who crashed twice and lost 13 minutes. We’ll never know, of course, how Thomas would have fared. Rather than helping Team Ineos Grenadiers rebound from its early setbacks, he’s at home watching the Tour on TV like the rest of us.

The Tour de France, as we all know, is pro cycling’s ultimate test of legs and lungs. Perhaps David Brailsford forgot that experience and attitude are important qualities for victory too.