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The Welshman and 2018 victor sits 1:35 minutes behind race leader Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step). It’s Alaphilippe’s untested legs as a grand tour contender that could persuade teams to race aggressively, Thomas said.
“You’d think Alaphilippe would be starting to get tired now? So yeah, I guess teams will be thinking to try and make it hard all day [for him],” Thomas said. “So yeah, it’ll be an interesting big three days. So I think a lot can happen.”
So far, Alaphilippe has managed to hold on to the race lead for 13 days, however the Frenchman is more known as a one-day rider with wins in Milano-Sanremo and the Flèche Wallonne.
He lost ground in the final push to Prat d’Albis during Sunday’s mountainous stage. Whether Alaphilippe can hold on in the Alps is now the most pressing story of the entire race.
Alaphilippe’s setback opened the door for Thomas, who surged away from the Frenchman on the climb and clawed back 27 seconds. That move has given Thomas considerable confidence as he heads into the Alps.
“Yeah, for sure,” Thomas said when asked if he is backing himself. “I’ve been feeling a lot better.
“But anything can happen, you know. We’ve seen in this race already that so much has happened and I’m sure a lot will continue to.”
Thursday’s stage 18 includes ascents of the Cold de Vars, Col d’Izoard, as well as the Col du Galibier, before a fast 19.5km decent to finish in Valloire.
“It’s gonna be tough. You know, three long climbs, high altitude,” Thomas said. “I quite like riding altitude, it doesn’t seem to affect me as much as some people.”
Thomas said that, while the stage does not finish atop the Galibier, the fast descent into Valloire could persuade the favorites to attack on the final climb of the day.
“It’s not summit finish tomorrow, but you know, if you have 30 to 40 seconds over the top, it’ll be hard to bring that back anyone, this is not too technical of a descent, it’s pretty fast and straight,” Thomas said. “I think not being a mountaintop, maybe means it’s like 90 percent rather than 100 percent for a mountaintop, but it’s still gonna tough for the two previous climbs as well.”
Stage 19 and 20 are both mountaintop finishes, with the finish line sitting above 2,000 meters at Tignes and Val Thorens.
“I think every day is going to be important. Obviously, the last one is you know, it’s the last of the Tour and a super long, hard climb to finish there, and a lot can happen tomorrow. So I think they are all important,” explained Thomas.
Thomas began the 2018 Tour riding shotgun to teammate and four-time winner Chris Froome. Instead, in the Alps, he made his bid to become team leader for the eventual overall win. He took the lead in the Rosière stage and the next day, won in the yellow jersey at Alpe d’Huez.
“Last year was pretty good in the Alps, so if I could do something similar, it’d be really nice,” Thomas said. “But yeah, it’s just a totally different situation now, but I’m looking forward to it.”
Thomas crashed three times already in this Tour de France, however. Tuesday, he fell when his gears locked up. Today, he said that he had no lingering pains.
“No, it’s all, good,” continued Thomas. “I thought my knee might be a little stiff to start with, but it was fine.”
In Thomas’s favor, he has Colombian teammate Egan Bernal sitting fifth in the group of riders fighting for the overall victory. Ineos can play off the numbers while other teams only have their one captain.