LA PLANCHE DES BELLES FILLES, France (VN) — Geraint Thomas (Team Ineos) gained seven seconds and, more importantly, a huge morale boost on stage 6 to La Planche des Belles Filles as he fights for a second Tour de France title.
The Welshman measured the sixth stage well, and in the last few hundred meters, rode clear of his rivals.
“A climb like that wouldn’t be my cup of tea, it suits the punchy guys, so that’s good for the morale,” Thomas explained as he cooled down on a trainer.
Thomas jumped from the lead group after Julian Alaphilippe attacked to try to keep his yellow jersey. He passed the Frenchman in the closing meters to claim fourth place and take time on his rivals.
It was the performance the defending champ sought after crashing at the Tour de Suisse and abandoning, and then crashing on stage 1 of the Tour.
“Yeah, I knew I was going well, but having not raced the Tour de Suisse you don’t know how good you are compared to everyone else,” he said. “I know I had some decent legs, but this is confirmation today that they are pretty good.”
“This did not really [ease doubts] for me, but maybe for everyone else who was questioning me,” he continued. “But I stay away from all that now, and stay in my own little bubble, talk to my wife about the dog and the house in Cardiff or whatever, and leave all the talk to everyone else.”
Ahead of the GC battle, Dylan Teuns (Bahrain-Merida) won the stage and Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) placed second with enough time to take the leader’s yellow jersey from Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step). Ciccone may lead the race but Thomas is the best-placed of the potential Tour winners. He has four seconds on teammate Egan Bernal (Ineos), nine on Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ), 15 on Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma), and 24 on Michael Woods (EF Education First).
“Everyone was looking pretty good, Richie Porte looked strong, I didn’t see Adam Yates, but I think he was there,” Thomas continued. “Everyone was good, but like I say, it’s still early days. I knew it wouldn’t be a decisive day, but the first little test to see how everyone would go.”
The seven-kilometer La Planche climb closed the stage, which featured around 4,000 meters of climbing.
“[Bernal and I] both knew we just had to pace it. When Alaphilippe went we didn’t get carried away. He just came past and kept it rolling a bit. We just both knew, just 350 meters or so to go, just pace it from there to the line. It felt like my legs were going by the end as well. It was a tough finish,” explained Thomas.
“It’s one of those climbs that you really have to be patient on, and when Alaphilippe went at 800 meters to go or something like that, I had the confidence to let him go, ride my own tempo, and then drive it all the way to the line from 350 meters.”
This year, La Planche des Belles Filles was extended an extra one kilometer and included gravel and chip-seal on the 20-plus-percent ramps at its conclusion.
“The gravel didn’t make any difference really, just something else to talk about,” Thomas said. “The climb was hard. It certainly made the climb a kilometer longer, even steeper at the top, so it definitely added a bit more pain to the legs.”