LA ROSIERE, France (Reuters) - Geraint Thomas is in the perfect position to win a maiden grand tour title after claiming victory on Wednesday’s first mountain stage of the Tour de France, but the Briton says compatriot Chris Froome remains the Team Sky leader. Thomas, who won the week-long Criterium du Dauphine last month while Froome was resting after winning the Giro d’Italia, took the 11th stage of the Tour with an impressive attack in the final climb to snatch the yellow jersey. He leads team mate Froome by one minute 25 seconds in the overall standings. Four-time champion Froome, however, is the more experienced rider, having already won all three grand tours.
“Froomey is the leader. He’s won six grand tours, he knows how to ride a three-week race,” Thomas told a news conference. “I just had an opportunity. Froomey knows how to win a three-week race. For me it’s already a success. Froomey is still our best chance.” With third-placed Tom Dumoulin 1:44 off the pace, Sky have two cards to play in the Tour’s tactical battle.
Yet Thomas, a former track cycling Olympic champion like 2012 Tour winner Bradley Wiggins, has yet to prove he can handle the pressure of a grand tour. His best overall grand tour result is 15th place in the 2015 and 2016 editions of the Tour de France. He turned professional on the road in 2007 and won the team pursuit Olympic titles in 2008 and 2012. Sky’s position, however, is a nightmare for their rivals, who in the past have struggled to unsettle the British outfit when Froome, who was cleared of a suspected doping offence in the week leading up to the Tour start, was the sole leader. With two riders now able to win the race, the equation has got even more complicated for the opposition. “Sky have a strong hold on the race, everyone is asphyxiated,” said AG2R-La Mondiale team manager Vincent Lavenu.
His team leader, Romain Bardet, limited the damage suffered on Wednesday, finishing 59 seconds behind Thomas along with Vincenzo Nibali and Nairo Quintana.
Frenchman Bardet, however, is now lagging 2:58 off the pace ahead of Thursday’s 12th stage ending up the iconic Alpe d’Huez. Sky’s rivals will now be pinning their hopes on potential leadership issues within the British team. “Since the start of the race I’ve been saying that Thomas is the strongest at Sky. But he has no references in a three-week race so we can always speculate on that,” said Lavenu. Thomas, however, said there would be no problem. “I saw a massive occasion to take the yellow jersey. I’m going to try to chill out and enjoy it,” said Thomas. “Then it will depend on the situation and what’s going on in the race. If I have to pull (for Froome) towards the end, I will. We’ll see.”
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Toby Davis