VALLOIRE, France (Reuters) - Ineos’s Egan Bernal and Geraint Thomas are ideally-placed at the Tour de France to turn up the pressure on yellow-jersey holder Julian Alaphilippe, but the British team are facing a leadership conundrum as the race reaches its climax.
With two competitive stages remaining in the Alps, which is far from Frenchman Alaphilippe’s favourite terrain, second-placed Bernal and third-placed Thomas trail the world number one by 1:30 and 1:35 respectively.
Colombia’s Bernal leapfrogged defending champion Thomas into second place after a powerful attack near the top of the Col du Galibier, the last ascent of Thursday’s 18th stage, gaining 32 seconds over all the main contenders.
He could have gained even more, but Thomas’s attack further up the road forced Thibaut Pinot to increase the pace to rein him in, with most of the other contenders on his wheel.
Asked if he had decided who would be the team leader going into Friday’s stage, Ineos manager Dave Brailsford said in French: “We’re going to decide tonight.
“Like every night, we will discuss between ourselves.”
After a punishing day that saw the riders climb three times above 2,000 metres in altitude, Brailsford said he was satisfied both riders showed good form.
“G (Thomas) had good legs, too bad that in the finale he could not make a difference,” said Brailsford, who led Ineos’s predecessor Team Sky to six of the last seven Tour titles.
“They talked, they wanted to shake things up but nobody moved. For me, there is no difference of level between the two. They are two good climbers.”
Last year, Team Sky started with two co-leaders in Thomas and four-times champion Chris Froome, but the Welshman quickly appeared to be the stronger rider and rode to overall victory without any visible tension in the squad.
In 2012, however, eventual winner Bradley Wiggins was the designated team leader, but Froome looked stronger in the mountains and had to be reined in by the team.
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Toby Davis