While he sits eight minutes down on the yellow jersey of Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma), the result still represents a huge turnaround in fortune and form for the veteran Welsh rider.
This time last year he was struggling to make it to Paris due to crashes and loss of morale, and when it came to contract negotiations at Ineos Grenadiers he was deemed to have fallen down the pecking order to the point where his status as a grand tour leader looked all but over.
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Even last month, at the Tour de Suisse – a race which Thomas eventually won – the Welshman was designated as a leadout man for Tom Pidcock in the early stages.
But on Sunday, and barring any accidents, he will ride into Paris for his third podium in five years, and arguably his best ever performance in a three-week race.
“I always believed. Not many other people did, to be honest,” Thomas told VeloNews in an exclusive interview after stage 18 of the Tour.
“It was a super hard end to the year for a couple of different reasons but I always believed that I still had the legs to do something. Obviously these two in front of me, there’s not a lot that I could have done about that but it was nice to be best of the rest.”
At the end of last year, it was clear that Ineos Grenadiers wanted to move in a new direction and build for the future.
That in itself was a sound decision. They’ve ushered Chris Froome out the door the year before, while Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard represented the new generation of Tour winners. Ineos, after a two-year drought of Tour success, needed to respond.
The team drafted in a host of young names over the winter and with Egan Bernal winning last year’s Giro it looked as though 2022 might be their year. They just forgot one thing: Geraint Thomas wasn’t done yet.
Contract negotiations between rider and team dragged on and on as Thomas’ age and status within the team management started to be mulled over. No one at a senior staff level doubted his ability or his application, but at 36 and with two poor grand tour years in recent times, they looked elsewhere for podium assurances.
Even when Egan Bernal crashed in the early season and wrote off his Tour chances the team looked to Adam Yates and Dani Martinez — two riders without a grand tour podium between them — as stand-ins. In March, Thomas wasn’t even assured of a Tour de France spot. He would not admit this publicly, but that must have stung.
However, he kept his head down, avoided the chatter and speculation over Tour rosters, and slowly but surely built up his form. He put in a solid but somewhat underwhelming ride at Romandie, and then came back at Suisse to win the overall, outclassing Martinez in the process as Yates departed with COVID.
When asked if the team management had the same level of belief in him as he had, Thomas told VeloNews: “I don’t think so. From the negotiations with the contract, it’s just how it was. It’s all about the younger generation now, and this and that. They obviously do believe that I can still be good and that I can still contribute to the team but Egan is the leader and he crashed, and then it’s Dani and Yates, and I was the leadout man in Suisse. You know?
“That’s fine. It just gave me a bit more impetus and I’ve changed my training a bit this year. I’ve got a new coach and that’s given me a new lease of life. I have a slightly different diet too, with eating more on the bike,” he added.
“Last year it was tough, to be honest. But once the season was down and I got away from this whole world and came back, it was just about getting in the best possible shape. It does give you some motivation. It’s making out that they think I’m crap. They didn’t, it was just a lot of other people as well… Maybe about my age and stuff but it is what it is. So it’s nice to be riding well and being up there.”
What’s also telling is that while Thomas and the rest of the field have been unable to land a single blow on either Vinegaard or Pogačar in this year’s race the Welshman has still come out of the race with his best ever set of data numbers. According to him, and his team boss Rod Ellingworth, Thomas is a better all-around athlete than the one who claimed the Tour de France title back in 2018.
“I’ve done my best minute, and all the way through to 20-minute power, here. That’s obviously good but the sport just gets faster. Training becomes more intelligent. Fueling, recovery, the bikes, tires, it’s all moving forward so it’s not a surprise that it keeps moving quicker.”
“It was another hard day obviously,” he said after virtually tying up third with his fourth place on the Hautacam.
“I was just trying to ride my pace up that climb. It was just hot as well and it was the first time I felt that I had a hot head on me but I just rode my pace to the top and then we ended up coming back because Pogačar had that little crash. Then it was a case of knowing that the first six or so kilometers, and then it went steep. I wanted to hold the wheels until then. Once we hit the steep bit I knew that I’d just have to back off a bit,” he said.
“Then at the top, I still finished quite strong. I could have pressed on a bit more but with everyone on GC behind me losing time I just wanted to get to the top. It was a solid day and I’m glad that the mountains are over.”
The Tour isn’t over, and there are still three stages, including the time trial to come but assuming Thomas rides into Paris with third overall he will have a very recent body of work to point to when it comes to grand tour leadership status. Not many riders at Ineos can say that.