By Julien Pretot
VALTHORENS, France (Reuters) – After his troubled preparation for the race, Geraint Thomas is still poised to finish the Tour de France as runner-up — and that persuades the defending champion to believe he can win the title again despite fierce internal competition at Team Ineos.
Thomas’s team mate Egan Bernal will become the first Colombian to win the Tour barring a crash on Sunday and at 22, the climbing phenomenon does not just have an outstanding future ahead but also looks a safer bet than Thomas for 2020.
Having missed out after his horror crash last month, four-time champion Chris Froome is also expected back next year, providing a puzzle for Ineos manager Dave Brailsford, who must choose who to put in pole position in Nice next July.
“He (Bernal) is probably going to dominate for more than a few years, he’s got a great team around him,” said Thomas, who started the race as Team Ineos co-leader with Bernal but had to accept the Colombian’s superiority in the mountains.
Thomas crashed during the Tour de Suisse in June and that hampered his preparations and he also hit he deck three times during this year’s race.
Bernal was initially scheduled to lead the team at the Giro d’Italia but he broke his collarbone in the lead-up to the race and had to focus on the Tour instead.
Froome’s crash at the Criterium du Dauphine opened the door to Bernal moving up the ranks in the team hierarchy and effectively challenging Thomas, who next season will also have to deal with the return of his fellow Briton Froome.
“(If Froome had been here) I don’t know, maybe it might have been a one-two-three,” said Thomas.
“Froomey is one of the best grand tour riders ever, the way he’s strong physically and his mental attitude as well. He’s going to come back next year. I don’t want to think about it now.”
It certainly seems as if Thomas will face a huge challenge if he wants to add to his 2018 title but the unassuming 33-year-old Welshman laughs in the face of adversity.
Asked if he could win another Tour, he replied: “I think I do. A lot of people probably don’t, but, whatever, that spurs me on.”
Being the defending champion meant that over the past year, Thomas has faced plenty of distractions that he will not have to worry about in 2020.
“(I knew it would be hard) from November to be honest, it’s not a joke,” he explained.
“It’s tough. It’s tough to come back and get to the same level, there are so many distractions, a few knocks and crashes and that was it. But I felt I managed to get into good shape.”
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ian Chadband)