Geraint Thomas may have spent the first rest day of the Tour de France 72 seconds off the yellow jersey, but he and Team Ineos believe things could not have gone much better for them in the first 10 days.
The crosswind chaos of Monday’s stage 10 saw Thomas power his way into second place in the general classification behind Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe, with the Welshman’s team-mate Egan Bernal four seconds behind in third.
A number of rivals – notably Groupama-FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot – lost 100 seconds on the stage to Albi, but Thomas and Bernal found themselves in a strong position afterwards.
Thomas, the defending champion, said: “With myself and Egan second and third, it’s been a great 10 days.
“Obviously it would be better if we were a couple of seconds behind Alaphilippe rather than a minute, but other than that it’s great.”
It is not a dissimilar situation to the first rest day of last year, when Olympic champion Greg Van Avermaet held yellow with a 43-second cushion over Thomas in second.
Van Avermaet was never expected to hold yellow for long in the mountains, duly handing it over when Thomas won stage 11 to La Rosiere, and many predict Alaphilippe will do something similar when the race hits the Pyrenees at the weekend.
He has thrilled the French crowds with his attacking style but the 27-year-old Deceuninck-Quick Step rider is not targeting the general classification and is not expected to keep this up for much longer.
Thomas said: “I won’t say we were happy, but we didn’t mind him gaining a few seconds after the first week.
“He’s never ridden for GC before over three weeks, but obviously we’ve got to be more and more aware of him the further the race goes on.
“There are some big days in the mountains now and the time trial. By the second rest day we’ll know a lot more. If he’s increased his lead it will be more of a concern.”
All of which leaves Thomas in an enviable position, certainly to those that were on the wrong side of Monday’s splits.
Chief among those was Pinot, who had positioned himself in front of Romain Bardet as the great hope for a first French winner of the Tour since Bernard Hinault in 1985.
A late attack alongside Alaphilippe on stage eight put him second overall, 19 seconds ahead of Thomas. It came undone two days later as the crosswinds sent him tumbling to 11th, but Pinot’s team manager Marc Madiot sounded a defiant tone at their rest day press conference.
“I see there are lots of people here today,” he said. “I get the feeling that you’re here for a burial but we’re still alive. We’re still in the match.”
The GC talk surrounding Colombian Bernal faded after Thomas rode away from him on La Planche des Belles Filles but having the 22-year-old in third place gives Ineos plenty of tactical options.
Thomas and Bernal remain co-leaders of Ineos but it now seems clear which way the team is leaning.
Team boss Sir Dave Brailsford said: “Geraint has won the Tour before, so he’s capable (of doing it again). If you have won it once you’re more capable of doing it again… given the experience and self-belief you get from doing it the first time.
“For Egan, he hasn’t done it the first time, but he’s still got all the credentials and everything we see suggests he should be able to do it but, until he does, we won’t really know.”