Tour de France: Geraint Thomas says Team Ineos must stay united

Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal
Geraint Thomas is competing in his 10th Tour de France

Defending champion Geraint Thomas says he must not compete against his joint Team Ineos leadership partner Egan Bernal in the final week of the 2019 Tour de France.

Thomas lies second and Bernal is fifth behind Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe going into the last six stages.

The Welshman says his aim is still to retain the Tour title he won in 2018.

"The main thing is we don't race against each other and throw away the race," he told the BBC BeSpoke podcast.

After Sunday's stage 15, Thomas said he was between "a rock and a hard place" as he could not push himself without helping Alaphilippe close down the Colombian.

On the second rest day of the tour, Thomas played down any concerns about his status as Team Ineos co-leader with Bernal and insists he still wants to be the man in yellow in Paris next Sunday.

When asked whether it was a good Tour for him if Bernal won, Thomas replied: "It is the team winning so I guess so, but obviously I want to be the one winning.

"Egan is a natural climber, born to go uphill. He's smaller, he's lighter and he's got a bit more punch.

"I can jump around, but I prefer to ride to my tempo and that's how I've been the last couple of days.

"Everyone loves having a go at our team, whatever we do. They say we are all robots, it's all science… but I don't care if people enjoy it or not, it's about winning the race.

"It's definitely not boring now and Alaphilippe has a big part to play in that.

"It must be fun for everyone to watch and looking back in a few years it'll be something nice to look at.

"But it will be even nicer if I win the Tour."

Thomas trails Alaphilippe by one minute 35 seconds with three tough stages in the Alps to come. There are just 39 seconds covering Thomas in second to Emanuel Buchmann in sixth.

Team principal Sir Dave Brailsford had to deal with leadership issues in the old Team Sky squad with Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, then Froome and Thomas.

Geraint Thomas (left) and Dave Brailsford celebrate Thomas' Tour de France win in 2018
Geraint Thomas (left) and Dave Brailsford celebrate Thomas' Tour de France win in 2018

Brailsford says he does not foresee any acrimony in 2019.

"There's no sign of it at the moment," he said. "The situation you're dealing with changes - once you go into the final part of the race, it's changing second by second.

"It is a different dynamic and challenge. Geraint has won it before and is an experienced Grand Tour rider. Egan is 22. He was supposed to be riding the Giro, had an accident and got switched into riding this and is riding well."

Thomas says he notices the extra expectation on him after winning the Tour last year.

"It is strange because last year and even before, no-one expected me to even be top 10 and now it's disappointment that I am only second," said Thomas.

"But that's the way the media and some people work. I like to stay away from that and keep in my little bubble.

"I am feeling good. I am just relishing the Alps now. I have good memories of riding there and am looking to enjoy them."

Fourth-placed Thibaut Pinot has emerged as the strongest GC contender on the climbs in the past couple of stages and looks like the man to beat in the Alps.

Thomas said he would have no qualms going head-to-head with a man being roared on by French crowds desperate for a first home winner in 34 years.

"I'd love it, I'd relish it," he said. "Bring it on."

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