Sir Dave Brailsford is confident there will be “no bullshit” between Team Ineos team-mates Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal as they go in pursuit of Tour de France glory.
Thomas may be the defending champion but he will start the race in Brussels on Saturday as team co-leader alongside the 22-year-old Bernal, whose stock has risen so far that captain Luke Rowe spent Friday comparing the Colombian’s approach to four-time Tour winner Chris Froome’s “pitbull mentality”.
Brailsford used to prefer his teams to have one clear leader and no ambiguity, but Ineos find themselves in a similar position to the one Team Sky was in 12 months ago.
Thomas began last year’s race effectively as co-leader alongside Froome, and wrested control of the team away with his riding on the road.
“If they both recognise it would be good for either one of them to win, it actually optimises the possibility together of one or other of them winning rather than having some kind of tension between them,” Brailsford said.
“And then I think it’s about trust. Fundamentally there has to be a degree of trust that no one is going to do something unexpected and I think ultimately the race does actually look after itself.
“The relationship between these two is very good. They are comfortable together, they communicate well. They can be straight - no bullshit between them.”
Last year Froome and Thomas spoke of the importance of their long-standing friendship when it came to managing their conflicting ambitions. Bernal only joined the team at the start of 2018 and Thomas admitted he cannot yet claim the same sort of relationship with his precocious young team-mate. Though they raced together in last year’s Tour, with Bernal finishing 15th, they did not race together again until June when Thomas crashed out of the Tour de Suisse and Bernal went on to win it.
“We haven’t raced a hell of a lot,” said Thomas. “We raced the Tour. That went quite well. Then I don’t think we raced until (the Tour de) Suisse. That didn’t really go to plan.
“He’s a nice guy. He’s got morals. He’s got the Colombian, Latin sort of thing... they’re very family-orientated but there’s a lot of respect, definitely.
“I feel that with Egan. I just chat to him. He speaks English really well, that sounds stupid but that can be the biggest hurdle sometimes with riders from two different nationalities. From my side, it’s great.”
Despite his lack of experience, Bernal could well emerge as the man to beat on a Tour which features four passes at altitudes of more than 2,000 metres, bread and butter to a rider raised in the Colombian mountains.
Bernal has already won Paris-Nice this year and, after missing the Giro d’Italia with a broken collarbone, bounced back to win the Tour de Suisse.
“I think that I’m young to be a GC rider, but I have a team with a lot of experience,” Bernal said. “For me it’s a little bit easier when you have some team-mates that you can follow.
“I follow them and they put me in a good position in the final and I try to do my best. With a team like this, maybe it’s a little bit easier.”
Ineos were unquestionably weakened the moment Froome crashed on a recon ride at the Criterium du Dauphine, but Rowe believes Bernal brings similar qualities to the team.
“He is the type of guy I would ride into a wall for and commit to because he is a natural leader,” said Rowe, using an expression Froome - who only left hospital on Thursday almost three weeks after hitting a wall of his own - might not appreciate.
“You have guys who are natural leaders and guys that aren’t. Those that are have this natural charisma, personality.
“It is like the first time I worked with Froomey I was just amazed by this pitbull mentality. They are there on the bus and they just want to go out and rip the legs off people. They have that tenacious mentality and Egan has that.”