The yellow jersey is waiting for Geraint Thomas.
Friday’s 27.2 kilometer individual time trial could vault Thomas into pole position at this year’s Tour de France. Thomas (Team Ineos), the defending champion, currently sits in second place, just 1:12 down on Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe in the overall.
Alaphilippe (Deceuininck-Quick Step) is a skilled time trialist, however he is more than a few watts shy of Thomas, who is among the world’s best in the race against the clock. In 2017 Thomas took the first of this three career Tour stage victories in the opening time trial, where he bested Swiss time trialist Stefan Kung.
“We’ll see how he goes, it’s an unknown for him as well, so it’ll be an interesting second week,” Thomas said.
Thomas will need to take approximately three seconds out of Alaphilippe’s advantage per kilometer during the race in order to take the jersey.
Thomas’s relatively easy day on Thursday could set him up to achieve such a feat. At the finish line of Thursday’s first Pyrenean stage, Thomas said he and his Ineos teammates expected attacks on the ascent of the Col du Peyresourde and the Hourquette d’Ancizan. When no attacks came, Ineos simply rode in to the finish in Bagnères-de-Bigorre.
“Nothing really happened, and we were happy for that,” Thomas said.
The relatively stress-free day in the mountains allowed Thomas to focus in on the race against the clock. The 27km course has several twists and turns, as well as two climbs: the Côte de Gelos (1.1km at 7.8 percent) and Côte d’Esquillot (1km at 7.2 percent). Those climbs could tip the scales toward Alaphilippe, who excels on punchy climbs. Thomas said he is familiar with the route.
“I’ll do a [reconnaissance] in the morning but I’ve ridden it three times already,” Thomas said. “I like it—it’s fast and it should be a hard, big day.”
The individual time trial will also shed light on whatever leadership questions arise between Thomas and Team Ineos’s young Colombian climber, Egan Bernal. Bernal sits in third place overall, just four seconds behind Thomas. Bernal is himself a talented time trialist, who won the Colombian national TT title in 2018. The Colombian is far better in the high mountains, and is likely a few steps behind Thomas in the time trials.
Nicolas Portal, Team Ineos’s longtime sport director, said he expects the hilly course to cater more to Thomas’s strengths.
“The time trial maybe suits Geraint better than it does Egan, so maybe you could expect Geraint to finish a bit higher on the rankings, but Egan has done some really good time trials this year, both in Paris-Nice and then at [Tour de] Suisse,” Portal said. “The goal for both riders is to go as quick as they can,”
Poral said the team has no intentions of pitting the two men against each other in the race. While directors will provide time splits to both men, Portal said he was doubtful that directors would inform each rider how he is faring compared to his teammate during the race.
“They just have to be concentrated of themselves—yes, if you can give them some time tap to make sure they know their own track,” Portal said. “There is no point to make sure they are racing against each other, or someone else on GC. The time gap is just to find out where you are and where you can push a little bit more.”