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Tour de France

Geraint Thomas: Ineos Grenadiers saw me as a ‘Sepp Kuss mountain domestique’ before the Tour de France

A podium finish for Thomas defies his team's expectations.

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ROCAMADOUR, France (VN) – Geraint Thomas isn’t the sort of character to turn around and say ‘I told you so’ and what would be the point anyway?

He’s let his legs and a podium spot in Paris do the talking when it comes to answering some of the questions and doubts his own team had of him at the end of last season.

A little under twelve months ago Thomas was deemed by Ineos Grenadiers as no longer capable of competing for grand tour honors.

A raft of new signings and Egan Bernal were lined up to lead for the coming years with Thomas set to play the role of wise old teammate and super domestique when called upon in the mountains.

To give Ineos some credit, it was looking at Thomas’s recent back catalogue of results through 2020 and 2021 in three week races and, with Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) raising the standard, it was only fair for Ineos to ponder where and how it could close the gap.

It turns out that the team’s best answer was the 36-year-old it thought was no more than a mountain supporter.

Cycling has a funny knack of flipping the script. When Egan Bernal crashed and wrote off his season the call came for Dani Martínez and Adam Yates to fill the void.

Thomas was still not given assurances of his Tour spot, despite the fact that neither Martínez or Yates had finished on the podium in a grand tour, but as the spring turned into early summer Thomas kept his head down and his counsel close.

His wife told him back in November 2021 that he would come out of the Tour on the podium and, while Ineos doubted his ability to reach those heights, the Welshman knuckled down and prepared as if he was going to the Tour as a possible contender.

Then Martinez fell off the rails at the Tour de Suisse, a race which Thomas won, and then Yates contracted COVID. Even as the Tour approached, Thomas – a rider who was on leadout duty at the start of Suisse – wasn’t given complete leadership.

Four weeks later and it’s Thomas who has made it to Paris on the podium for the third time in his career. He has not truly troubled either Vingegaard or Pogačar but ‘best of the rest’ was still enough to secure a well-deserved third overall.

“I think in their mind they saw me more of a Sepp Kuss, a domestique in the mountains and not quite there all the time,” Thomas said when asked what Ineos thought of him towards the end of last season and at the early stages of this year.

“That changed slightly after Suisse. I’m just super happy to be there in the mix.”

‘I knew that I could still be good’

Motivation came from wanting to prove that at the age of 36 he could still mix it with the best. Thomas and team boss Rod Ellingworth sat down at the Welshman’s house in the winter and Thomas spelled out what he wanted: to essentially adjust his program towards the Tour with the aim of being in the best possible shape.

“It’s just the type of character I am. You don’t give up just because someone tells you that you can’t do something. Deep down I knew that I could still be good and I just wanted to come here in the best shape I could,” he said following stage 20 of the Tour.

“Even if that meant being like Sepp and doing super rides in the mountains and switching off on other days or if that meant where I am on the podium, I just wanted to give myself that best chance.”

Thomas hasn’t been the only highlight for the British team in this year’ race. Tom Pidcock won on Alpe d’Huez on his debut in the race and the team heads into Paris to collect the teams classification.

There is still a huge gulf between Ineos and Jumbo-Visma and UAE Team Emirates, the two teams that controlled the entire GC battle during the Tour de France.

Thomas was never truly in the battle for yellow and finishes the race over eight minutes down on Vingegaard’s yellow and at some point in the next year or two the team will need to either invest or develop talent that can challenge once more for the Tour.

Thomas was asked how Ineos might close the gap to Pogačar and Vingegaard in the future and, while the British team remains hopeful that Bernal will return to former glories, it’s unclear if even that will be enough to end the team’s short but noteworthy Tour drought.

“Next year might be my last year anyway so I don’t really care I’ll enjoy watching it,” Thomas joked.

“It’s tough.Those two are just unbelievable. Tom Pidcock for sure has a really bright future but it’s one thing riding like he is and it’s another thing winning. But why not? The team would definitely get behind him but more short-term, who do you sign? Those two are standout guys.

“The best way, as we came in here, is with a strong line-up. If you have three really good guys, it’s a maybe but Jumbo are so strong, UAE, you say they were weak but that day Bjerg and McNulty… jepperes.

“We’ve definitely got our work cut out but that’s the challenge and that’s what gets you out of bed in the morning. It’s going to motivate us and I’ll do everything that I can to help, whether I do one or two more years. We can definitely do it, it’s just that we’re going to have our work cut out.”