No sooner had he congratulated Egan Bernal, the question was put to Geraint Thomas: what about next year? Chris Froome is expected to be back in the fold and that means Ineos could have all of the past three Tour de France winners in their team when the 2020 race kicks off in Nice. “If all three of us are there on the start line – me, Froomey and Egan – jeez, we’re going to have some questions about leadership,” Thomas said with a wry smile and a puff of the cheeks.
Throw into the mix the reigning Giro d’Italia champion Richard Carapaz, who is expected to join the team, as well as a raft of young talent coming the through their development programme, and it seems Ineos are not going away any time soon. “The other teams will have to answer those questions on the road,” said Thomas. “We’ve always been honest, clear and communicated with each other, so it will be great to have that strength next year.”
It is quite some turnaround considering little more than six months ago the team was under threat of collapsing following the withdrawal of Sky’s sponsorship. Into the breach stepped Britain’s richest man – now living in Monaco – Sir Jim Ratcliffe, owner of petrochemicals giant Ineos, who has not only kept the team afloat but seems invested in its future both financially and emotionally.
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“I always felt the riders, especially the guys here, would be OK and find other teams,” said Thomas. “But we wanted to keep the whole unit together including the staff and support network. Obviously that wasn’t the best time, but it’s amazing that we should find such a great boss to come in and take over the whole thing.
“You would never know that Jim is worth billions and billions: He’s just a genuine guy who loves his sport and it’s great that he’s backed the team and left us to carry on what we’d been doing before. I speak to him quite a lot – I sent him a quick video when I was in the back of one of the commissaires’ cars with a bottle of champagne. I promised I wouldn’t overdo it and I was only having the one.”
Ineos’s were pushed a little closer this year by Dutch team Jumbo-Visma, who are rumoured to be adding to their ranks arguably Netherlands’ best rider in Tom Dumoulin, which would be quite a coup. When you consider that they already have the Tour’s third-place finisher Steven Kruijswijk, and the Giro d’Italia’s third-place finisher Primoz Roglic, as well as potential GC riders like the Kiwi George Bennett and the revelation that has been Belgian rider Laurens De Plus, it is a formidable line-up.
How Thomas fits into that landscape, both at Ineos and against rising competition, is unclear. He is 33 now and one conclusion might be that his 2018 triumph was the interlude between two great eras of Froome and Bernal. But he says talk that he has no more Grand Tours in his legs motivates him to prove the doubters wrong.
“I don’t read it, although certain stuff filters through to me and it spurs me on,” he says. “But to be honest, I am a lot closer to the end of my career than the start. Me and Egan are on separate spectrums, but it’s great to be having this success [together].”
In an ever more crowded field, Thomas remains in no doubt he can rise to the top again.
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