Chris Froome is the undoubted top rider at Team Sky heading towards the 2016 Tour de France, not least because of his two career wins in the race, but another who believes final yellow on the Champs Elysees might be within reach is Geraint Thomas.
Thomas, who helped Froome win his second Tour this July, will likely be the team’s second protected rider in the race next season after the departure of Richie Porte. This position is due in part to his strong 2015, which saw him win the Volta ao Algarve and the E3 Harelbeke, net second in the Tour de Suisse, third in Gent-Wevelgem and fifth in Paris-Nice.
He also rode prominently for much of the Tour de France and finished 15th overall.
While Froome will get the full backing of the team, the younger Briton will be on standby and could be asked to step up if the defending champion runs into any problems.
But, whether or not he gets a chance in the short term or it takes longer, he said that his performance in the 2015 Tour has made a big difference to his confidence.
“I thought I might up there at the thick end for a day or so,” Thomas told the Guardian, “but to be there for so long was awesome. From day one I was never worrying about myself. I was always thinking about Froomey.
“So it definitely gave me the confidence that if I focus on it 100% as a back-up GC rider, behind Froomey, and be protected myself, I’ll have a real good goal for next year.”
Thomas said that he took encouragement from seeing Bradley Wiggins win the Tour in 2012.
“It’s the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen,” he stated. “It was like the coaches put together a computer programme which Brad followed to perfection. Eat this, pedal this fast for this long, sleep for this long. Brad was like a monk and that year he won everything: Paris-Nice, Romandie, the Dauphine, the Tour, the Olympics.”
However, the paper notes that Team Sky Principal Dave Brailsford and his second in command Shane Sutton had actually pinpointed Thomas as their main bet to become the first British winner of the Tour.
The statement was made shortly after he won Olympic gold in the team pursuit in 2008. Thomas admits he was sceptical.
“I didn’t believe it,” he said. “I went ‘Pffffff.’ Then I saw Brad do it and that flipped the switch in me. Maybe Shane and Dave saw the same characteristics in me.”
Asked if he therefore believed he could turn that predication into a reality in the future, he said that the feat might be possible.
“I certainly think it’s a lot more achievable than I did three months ago. If I keep on improving, commit to it totally, have a team around me, a podium is certainly realistic,” he said. “And you’d aim to win it. You would be there or thereabouts – especially if the route was good for me. It’s certainly exciting.”
However while he said that he believes that Froome might back him if it proved that Thomas was stronger in the Tour, saying that each rider is honest enough to commit to the other if it proved necessary, he also said he would be open to leaving Team Sky if that was necessary to get a chance to chase yellow.
However while he’s 29 years of age – and thus one year younger than Froome, and a year older than when the Team Sky leader won his first Tour – he said that it’s not a short-term priority.
“I can’t see Froomey disappearing any time soon. My deal with Sky expires next year but at the moment I don’t want to leave for another team and be their leader because Sky is the best place to learn – and be in the best position to get a result,” he said.
“Maybe two years down the line I will feel: ‘I know exactly what I’m doing now, and exactly what it takes.’ If I have to leave then, then I would.”