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Four years after he won atop Alpe d’Huez and consolidated his grip on a yellow jersey he would take all the way to Paris, Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) put in another strong performance on the iconic climb.
The 36-year-old Welshman raced to seventh on stage 12 of the Tour de France, digging in to finish on the same time as Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) at the famous ski resort.
The ride saw Thomas improve one place to third overall, leaping over Romain Bardet (Team DSM) to move into a podium position.
Frenchman Bardet had started the day second in the standings but struggled on the Alpe, losing 19 seconds and slipping to fourth.
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Thomas said the key to his ride was staying within his limits when Pogačar was firing off big attacks at Vingegaard. “I was feeling good,” he said at the finish. “I was trying to just not get carried away when they were jumping. Ride at pace, obviously accelerate, but not too much.
“I felt good, I felt like I could have gone [for it] in that sprint but unfortunately they got the elbows out a bit more.
“[The sprint] was stop/start. I actually felt that I had the speed in that sprint, but Vingegaard came. It was either brake or crash, so I braked.”
The 22-year-old had been under pressure on Wednesday’s stage to the Col du Granon, placing only 18th and slipping from eighth to 11th in the general classification.
He showed character to bounce back from that on Thursday, going clear in the day’s break, pushing the pace to whittle the list of stage contenders down, and then moving clear at the bottom of Alpe d’Huez and adding to his lead all the way to the top.
Thomas knows what it feels like to win atop one of cycling’s most celebrated climbs, and was chuffed for his teammate.
“It’s great to see him doing well,” he said. “The second Brit to win up here … it is a nice accolade to have. It’s fantastic for him, he is a super talent.
“He has been riding really well. He wasn’t great yesterday, but he had the opportunity to go in the move today, and looking at the guys in the break, we were confident that he could do something.”
Thomas revealed that it was the plan from the start of the stage to send the Tour debutant up the road in a move. That initially proved difficult, but persistence — and some skillful downhill action — helped to break the elastic.
“Jumbo were covering him quite a lot. Roglič was following him quite a bit. But then we just waited. A few guys went on the descent, we just told them to go. Van Aert was happy to let him go. They were riding quite slow to let the gap go out, so that was great for us.
“As I say, we were confident that he was the best climber in the break.”
That’s how things worked out, marking it a good day on two fronts for the Ineos Grenadiers team.