Geraint Thomas (Ineos Grenadiers) crosses the line of stage 19 just behind Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) in the yellow jersey of 2022 Tour de France leader.

Geraint Thomas on how to beat the whippersnappers: ‘What can you do?’

“We've definitely got our work cut out but that's the challenge and that's what gets you out of bed in the morning,” says Thomas.

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Geraint Thomas all but sealed third overall on the stage 20 time trial, and in Paris he will complete a nice little collection of podium places at the Tour de France: first in 2018, second in 2019 and third in 2022.

Notably, at 36 he’s the oldest on the podium by over a decade – 10.5 years over Jonas Vingegaard and add two years over Tadej Pogačar – so in an era of 21-year-old Grand Tour winners, by rights he should get a classification jersey for ‘best old rider’.

The Welshman’s deficit to the yellow jersey is a fairly sizeable 8:13 after his fourth place in the ITT, and 20 stages of almost universally electrifying and frantic racing. For ‘G’, much of that time was spent trying to follow the two ‘whippersnappers’ who he’ll just on the podium in Paris.

In that time, has he come up with any ideas as to how to beat them?

“I think next year might be my last year anyway, so I don’t really care. I’ll enjoy watching,” Thomas joked in the press conference after stage 20, before moving on to the two riders ahead of him on GC, both over a decade his junior. “Those two are just unbelievable. Tom [Pidcock] for sure has got a very bright future, but it’s one thing riding as he is and it’s another thing to win the thing. But why not? More and more in the short term, those two are the standout guys at the moment.”

Like Jumbo-Visma, the Ineos Grenadiers headed into the Tour de France with multiple leaders and a stellar squad that mixed experience with raw talent – the team finishes the Tour as leaders of the team classification. This multi-leader structure is a tactic that Thomas believes holds the key.

“I think the best way is as we came here, with a really strong lineup,” he said. “Dani [Martínez] got sick and [Adam] Yatesy is a bit sick now, so if you have three really good guys, maybe. But still Jumbo are so strong and UAE – well they say they were weak but ‘Ice Berg’ [Mikkel Bjerg] and McNulty… Jesus. What can you do?

“So, we’ve definitely got our work cut out but that’s the challenge and that’s what gets you out of bed in the morning. If it was easy, you wouldn’t bother doing it. It definitely motivates us, and I’ll do everything I can to help, whether I do one or two more years.”

For a number of years, the Tour de France, or any Grand Tour for that matter, was the domain of the experienced; to do well you had to learn the process, understand how your own physiology changes in three weeks, and earn your place in the hierarchy before taking leadership.

Thomas is the last man to have won the Tour over the age of 30 back in 2018 (he was 32). The next two winners made history with their youth, not the youngest ever, but the youngest in over a century.

Thomas did something very rare at this Tour: another GC rider attacking the top two. It didn’t last, but it was quite something to behold.

It seems Geraint Thomas has found himself straddling two eras of the sport, and though third place ought to see a rider included on potential winners lists, the 36-year-old is thought to have aged out of real contention. Even the man himself hinted at a change of direction.

“I’ve got a contract to the end of next year. I may stop or may do one more,” he said. “I’m still really enjoying racing and this race. It’s the biggest race in the world, it’s unbelievable to be a part of and to be in the mix fighting for stages and wins is what I love to do.

“But at the same time, I don’t know. This year I’ve had a different programme doing La Flèche Wallonne for the first time and I’ve only done Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Basque Country once before. That gave me a new lease of life as well. But never say never. We’ll see.”

Not for the first time this week, Thomas showed he was perhaps a little miffed at the team’s characterisation of him until his terrific Tour de Suisse victory in the lead-up to the Tour. And even as the Tour got underway.

“I think in their mind they saw me as more a Sepp Kuss-sort of domestique in the mountains,” Thomas said of his team. “And not quite there all the time, was the impression I got. It changed slightly after Suisse but I was super happy to be able to be there in the mix.”

Though he keeps plugging away at the palmarès, the peak of Thomas’s career certainly seems to be a few years in the past. Almost three whole years spanned the Tour victory and his next GC win at the Tour de Romandie in 2021, but he’s shown no signs of overturning the GC rebrand that he underwent in the mid 2010s.

His team might not have had the belief, but Thomas’s own perspective didn’t change.

“I’ve always believed I could,” he said when asked if he could win the Tour again. “The end of the last year was really hard for a number of reasons but once I started again it was a steady build up, which is normal for me the last few years. But I was confident that if I kept working hard and doing the right things that I’d be in the mix. I never tried to put a number on it in my head, like a position. It was more getting into the race as fresh as I could and racing the race.

“It’s just the type of character I am. You don’t just give up because something tells you that you can’t do something. Deep down I knew I could still be good. I just wanted to be here in the best shape I could whether that meant being like Sepp and doing super rides in the mountains but then switching off on other days, or whether it’s, as I am now, on the podium.”

Ever stoic, Thomas hasn’t allowed himself to take the final podium for granted in recent days, despite the cavernous gap between him and the more minor placings. 5:43 separates him from fourth-place David Gaudu after stage 20, and he knows he’ll get to celebrate one heck of an achievement in Paris.

“I just wanted to give myself that last chance and yeah, I’m over the moon. Super, super happy to be on the podium.”

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