Thomas, despite being 35 later this spring, is Brailsford’s chosen one as Bernal continues to fight back to fitness from the back injury that forced him to abandon his Tour defense last September.
Brailsford stated that the Tour route is “really suited to Geraint’s attributes.”
“He is very, very motivated for it,” Brailsford said. “Given the time-trialing, the nature of the climbing, the first week and the crosswinds, that element lends itself well to his skills and attributes. On paper: It’s a great Tour for Geraint.”
The Welshman, Tour winner in 2018 and who is currently in discussions with the team over a new contract, crashed out of last year’s Giro, only to see teammate Tao Geoghegan Hart race to a surprise final victory in Milan. However, Geoghegan Hart is scheduled to skip defending his pink jersey to play a support role to Thomas at the 2021 Tour, which starts in Brest, Brittany on June 26.
Bernal, meanwhile, who today returned to racing at the Étoile de Bessèges stage race in the south of France, is targeting the Giro d’Italia.
“Egan will focus on the Giro to start with,” Brailsford said, “with Pavel Sivakov and Dani Martínez as well.”
Brailsford said Bernal could race the Giro-Tour double, depending on his form coming out of the Italian grand tour.
“[Bernal] spent time in Italy as a young rider, he was on an Italian team, he has strong connections in Italy and he really wants to compete for all three grand tours and not just fall into the trap of doing the Tour every year,” Brailsford said. “I wouldn’t rule out Egan doubling up into the Tour, that’s very possible. But we’ll assess that one as we get closer.”
Ineos Grenadiers could roll into this year’s Tour de France with four grand tour winners on its bench, as Thomas, Geoghegan Hart, and Carapaz are confirmed Tour starters, with Bernal a possible addition. Richie Porte, third place at the 2020 Tour de France, is another starter for the Tour. Another Tour rider will be Rohan Dennis.
“Richard (Carapaz) will focus on the Tour de France, so will Richie,” Brailsford said. “He was third last year, his best performance ever. [He’s a] great time trialist, he can climb fantastically well. So again, you look at the route and you think he will be very adept.”
Brailsford said Geoghegan Hart could have raced either the Giro or the Tour, and ultimately the team decided he was ready and bound for France.
“Tao could have gone back to Italy and there was a lot of chat about him going back to defend his Giro title,” Brailsford said. “On the other hand, he could step up and focus on trying to ride the Tour. Actually, in terms of his progression and development, it felt like riding the Tour was the next step.”
“I think it is a great opportunity for him. He had a fantastic adventure, [an] unbelievable experience, and an inspiring experience for all of us who were in and around that. It feels like he can carry on that adventure, step up while he is in such a great place.”
Adam Yates, meanwhile, who joined the team from what was Mitchelton-Scott, will concentrate on the Vuelta a España.
“I’m really pleased about this because, as a team over the years, we’ve very much got to the end of July and quite often dropped off the edge of a cliff, because we focus so much on building up to July,” Brailsford said. “Adam has come here to perform. He wants to take a step up and we want to help him do that.”
“To have Adam totally focused on the Vuelta is pretty exciting from our point of view. A lot of the other guys will double up into the Vuelta, but we’ll confirm that when we get closer and see how they come out of the Giro. It could well be that Egan goes into the Vuelta rather than the Tour, and Carapaz is quite keen on doubling up into the Vuelta as well.”