Those two minor blips, the first coming when Thomas forgot to take off his gilet, are likely to count for much after three weeks of racing across Denmark and France, but Thomas has been in the right place at the right time and avoided his perennial weakness of crashing early in grand tours.
After three days of racing, Thomas sits 31 seconds off the race lead and in 12th place overall, but most crucially of all he is just 18 seconds down on race favorite Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates).
The Welshman wasn’t in the mass pile-up that took down his two teammates Dani Martínez and Filippo Ganna on stage 2, and when there was a touch of wheels on the short cobbled section on stage 3 the veteran rider was once more near the front and out of danger.
Toward the end of both road stages he has been kept out of trouble by his teammates but he’s also come through gaps on his own and switched wheels when he’s felt the need. He’s not looked this composed or comfortable since his Tour de France purple patch in 2018 when he won and then in 2019 when he finished second to his teammate Egan Bernal.
- Thomas ‘pulls the pin’ and takes risks after cautious start to Copenhagen TT
- Ineos Grenadiers’ GC hopes survive stage 2 crashes
“I’m getting into the rhythm and almost don’t really want to travel and have this rest day but the team has been riding well together and it’s been a good start,” Thomas said at the end of stage 3.
“It’s been less stressful than the past. Because of the weather, the wind hasn’t been too strong or going in the right direction. So it’s been a bit more chilled than previous years. It’s still been stressful but I’ve been able to enjoy it a bit more.”
After Sunday’s stage the race heads to mainland France for a rest day before the race restarts on Tuesday.
The next major stage will be on stage 5 when the Tour tackles the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix. Thomas should be well-equipped for that test, although luck will undoubtedly be a feature too.
“Wednesday is the big day on the cobbles so I’ll just try and rest up and then it’s back on it,” he said.
Ineos still has its other two GC cards in the frame with Martínez and Adam Yates in contention. Martínez did not sustain any major injuries in the fall on stage 2 and Yates put in a stunning opening time trial.
The English climber is eighth overall, and 30 seconds down on yellow. Considering he missed the end of the Tour de Suisse through COVID-19 and wasn’t even certain for a Tour start a few days before the race began, his opening performances have been nothing short of impressive.
“It’s been good,” he rather modestly said after stage 3.
“The TT was the first big test in a long time and like you’ve said I didn’t really test myself in Suisse before the mountains. It was a good hit-out and I got the engine started again. In the last few days I’ve just followed the wheels, and so far so good.”