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Poised in third place at 2:43 back, the 2018 Tour winner insists he’s looking ahead, not over his shoulder as the peloton took stock on its third rest day Monday.
With three climbing stages stacked up in the Pyrénées, everything is still in play going into what will be a tense final week of the 2022 Tour.
“I am not looking behind, and I am still looking at going forward,” Thomas said Monday. “It’s a three-week race, not 15 stages. So anything can happen still.
“The guys behind, you got to keep one eye on them, but on the final TT, I am confident I can get some decent time on those guys,” Thomas said. “With Tadej, it’s hard, isn’t it? He’s incredible. Sure he cracked one day already, but if they can continue to race full gas, no one knows what could happen.”
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Thomas characterized the Tour’s second week a “good week,” citing the health improvements of Dani Martínez and the stage win from Tom Pidcock at the Alpe d’Huez.
“I’ve been feeling good all the way through,” he said. “There’s no point in my trying to match the explosivity of Vingegaard or Pogačar. When they are attacking like they do, it’s a lot better for me to ride a lot more steady and get back to them.
“The worse day was Mende, because the climb didn’t suit me the best,” he said of week two. “I was still feeling OK, still went up pretty quick. The time to the yellow jersey is doubled [from week one], which isn’t ideal, but at the same time, I think we are still in a good place.”
‘Everything could change on the last day in the Pyrénées’
He admits he’s a pedal stroke or two behind the leading pair, but isn’t discounting a final-week resurgence to position himself for a possible upset going into the final time trial waiting Saturday. The longer distance could suit his diesel-like engine to defend a podium spot.
Ineos Grenadiers still has all eight riders in the race, whereas both UAE Team Emirates and Jumbo-Visma are down two riders each.
The first hurdle is to make it through three climbing stages across the Pyrénées with his podium ambitions still fully intact.
“They’re going to be tough. Pogačar looks intent on attacking at any moment,” Thomas said of the Pyrénées. “We could see another Galibier-style day, when they were attacking the hell out of each other.
“We are going to try to look at it as a three-day block, and the hardest day will be the last of those three days,” he said. “It can all change on the last day in the Pyrenees, because that’s the super-hard day.”
Thomas, 36, is racing a near flawless Tour so far. Up to now, he’s avoided the crashes and other pitfalls that have sometimes torpedoed his Tour ambitions.
He said it’s hard to compare his form now to when he won the Tour in 2018.
“Without sounding too cocky, but when I won, I never went ‘full.’ I was suffering and it was hard, but I never felt like I had to ride full-gas for 5km, whereas I have here. The numbers are good here, some of the best numbers I’ve done.
“Four years it’s hard to compare, I would say I am at a similar level,” Thomas said. “It’s going to be difficult [to win]. There are two incredibly strong riders in front of me, not just one. But you’ve got to keep believing. As a team, we’re going to hopefully try to make the most of any opportunity and keep racing the best we can.”
He regrets not being able to find an opening against the likes of Pogačar and Vingegaard in the Tour’s first week, but he’s also grateful that he’s steered clear of bad luck so far.
“Anything can happen. We saw yesterday Vingegaard had a little crash, COVID is rife, all that comes into play but purely from a racing point of view, Pogačar is going to attack,” he said.
“The strategy so far is about getting from A to B on a climb as fast as you can, and just try to get to Paris as fast as we can, and that’s all we can do really. Jonas and Tadej, for sure, if we don’t pass them, we don’t, and that’s that.”