Aesop recounts the consistent and canny tortoise overhauling an overconfident fast-kicking hare in a race that seemed destined for only one outcome.
“At the start of this year, I was slightly on the back foot,” Thomas said after taking Suisse’s tall trophy Sunday. “It’s super nice to be at the pointy end again.”
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Thomas started the week in Switzerland as a C-list contender against a bunch of new whippersnapper stars.
But the Welshman dodged a hail of COVID bullets and rode a cagey, conservative week before uncorking a time trial that topped European champion Stefan Küng and came close to the TT wunderkind Remco Evenepoel.
“To get this win, I’m super happy,” Thomas said. “I didn’t really expect it with two other leaders in the team, I was doing lead-outs and stuff at the start of the week.”
So what does Suisse mean, less than two weeks from the Tour de France?
It puts 2018 Tour champion Thomas at the front of the Ineos Grenadiers team bus, and it offers the perfect racing antithesis to the firecracker firepower of Pogačar and Roglič.
‘You had to be conservative and not be aggressive too early’
Like Aesop’s tortoise and its steady plod against the upstart hare, Thomas’ race in Switzerland was below the radar but ruthlessly effective.
Evenepoel went deep and got zapped by heat. Aleksandr Vlasov surged but fell into pro cycling’s COVID pothole. Sergio Higuita sizzled in the mountains but ran out of legs when it mattered most.
Meanwhile, Thomas’ bonus point sprints and cagey ride in the wheels paved the way for time trial triumph and his first-ever victory at Tour de Suisse
“With the heat, you had to be conservative and not be aggressive too early,” he said.
“Consistency, always being up there in the right place. Obviously, we lost our leader in Adam Yates which was unfortunate, but to rally and do what we did is super satisfying.”
At the Tour, Thomas won’t be uncorking the type of devastating long-range Alpine attacks that took Pogačar toward his second yellow jersey or saw Roglič crack Egan Bernal on the Covodogna in last year’s Vuelta a España.
But the 36-year-old’s doggedness and ability to endure offer him something more.
Thomas’ classic-centric past won’t see him troubled by cobbles or crosswinds in the Tour’s opening week. The Grande Boucle‘s Granon and Superplanche summit finishes are steep, but not severe enough to choke Thomas’ big diesel engine.
A ride up Alpe d’Huez on stage 12 will put Thomas back in the bends where he beat back pure climbers like Romain Bardet, Mikel Landa, and an inexperienced Roglič, in 2018.
And the final 41km time trial?
That’s where the Thomas tortoise could finally awaken two napping Slovenian hares.
Based on Sunday’s performance, the Welshman can level or better Roglič and his characteristic third-week wobble and go faster than Pogačar on the roads toward Rocamadour.
‘I’ll take my chance if it comes’
Thomas’ experience and canny will mean a lot when Dave Brailsford deploys his Tour de France trident next month.
Sixteen grand tours, 11 of them Tours de France, make the Welshman one of the most experienced three-week racers of the modern peloton.
Ineos Grenadiers co-captain Adam Yates packs the experience but still hasn’t cracked the podium. His recent bout with COVID could make that elusive top-three even tougher.
Daniel Martínez is one of the most crackling climbers in the bunch but hasn’t truly tasted the pressure of leadership.
“I just want to go there and race hard and do what I can,” Thomas said Sunday.
“We’ve got two other leaders on the team. Whether I stay up on GC for a while to play another card, go for stages, or help other guys … whatever. I’m happy to do whatever. I’ll take my chance for sure if it comes, I’ll help the boys if I have to.”
Thomas knows he doesn’t have the bucking-hare pace of Roglič and Pogačar. No other riders do. But he’s got Yates and Martínez-adorned aces up his sleeve and the resilience to put Ineos Grenadiers back into the Tour de France throne it once owned.
“As a team, for sure we can compete with Roglič and Pogačar at the Tour,” Thomas said. “Man versus man is a different story. They’re super talents, as we know, they’ve been MVPs the last couple of years.
“But we’ve got a strong team, just got to stay healthy now. We’re all motivated and we’re just going to go there and give our best.”
Thomas won the 2018 Tour after starting off-radar and second-fiddle to team captain Chris Froome.
Four years later, Pogačar, Roglič, Yates, and Martínez might want to remember that. If Thomas stays upright, expect him to be there.