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SAINT-ÉTIENNE, France (VN) — It could have been a lot worse for Geraint Thomas (Ineos).
Thomas crashed at perhaps the worst moment during Saturday’s eighth stage of the Tour de France. But the defending Tour champion was able to stave off disaster—thanks to the quick thinking of his Ineos Teammates. The worst of the crash, Thomas says, is that Frenchman Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) gained 20 seconds in the overall classification.
“I’m fine, but it was just frustrating obviously. It was a key moment in the race, Woodsy crashed, and just took out Gianni and me,” Thomas explained.
The crash occurred with 15km remaining in Saturday’s 200 kilometer stage to Saint-Étienne, as the peloton navigated a fast descent through narrow roads before the steep ascent of the Côte de la Jaillière.
Canadian rider Michael Woods (EF Education First) slid out in a tight right-hand corner, and Thomas crashed over him. Thomas’s Ineos teammate Gianni Moscon (Ineos) crashed as well, snapping his carbon Pinarello bike frame in half.
Team Ineos sprung into action, mobilizing all of its riders in the group other than Egan Bernal. Ineos rode a team time trial for several kilometers, with Wout Poels as the last rider to take a pull on the front. The effort helped Thomas regain the back of the peloton just as it hit the lower slopes of the climb.
But just as Thomas regained the group, Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step) attacked on the steep ramp with 12km to go. Alaphilippe was followed by Pinot, and the two Frenchman gained a gap on the other favorites.
“I just got tangled up in Gianni’s bike a bit and it took a bit of time to get going but the boys did a great job and I closed the gap the final bit and slowly moved up the group,” Thomas said. “But then obviously, by the time I got to the top 20 to 15, that’s when they sprinted over the top then for seconds, so then, I was gassed for a bit.”
With the move, Pinot jumped past Thomas in the overall standings into third place overall. Among the pre-race favorites, Pinot is now the highest ranked in the overall.
“It’s annoying and frustrating, but at the same time, to come back like I did shows the legs are good at least. You just don’t every want to give an unnecessary time away,” Thomas said.
“If I hadn’t crashed, I could have followed, so a totally different story then. That’s the way it goes. still a lot of racing to come.”
When Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) won in the 2014 Tour, Pinot finished third overall. Thomas considered the 29-year-old “very” dangerous for the final overall trophy.
“I think he’s been on the podium before. he’s riding really strongly. So a big threat,” Thomas said.
When asked what part of his body absorbed the most impact in the crash, Thomas looked at his left side. “The left,” he said. “But the worst was that Pinot got time. I’m fine.”
Warming down beside Thomas outside of Ineos’s team bus was co-leader Egan Bernal. In the overall race, Thomas sits 19 seconds behind Pinot; Bernal is 23 seconds behind the Frenchman.
“I just heard G crashed and that he was back on the bike really fast,” Bernal said.
“I was thinking he’d come back and I was ready if needed to wait for him but the team didn’t say anything, just to stay in front group, which I did.
“Today was one of hardest stages so far in the Tour, all day we were going full gas. I’m happy because I felt good all stage. I’m happy.”
Thomas also fell in the first stage to Brussels. Today’s Saint-Etienne fall might not mean much when the race reaches the high mountains. Already, Thomas gained time on all of his rivals on the short seven-kilometer Plache des Belles Filles climb.
He will, however, keep on eye on Pinot.
“Yeah, him and Alaphilippe certainly have a good kick and punch at the moment, riding really well both of them,” he added. “They are definitely the guys to watch and to beat.”