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The opening week is over and the focus is now on the race to Roubaix that’s coming up on the second Sunday of the 2018 Tour de France. Could this be the day when ‘G’ Thomas takes the yellow jersey off GVA?
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There is a bike race on today and there’ll be something to say about stage eight but the course tells us that the true action of the second weekend is coming on Sunday, not Saturday. Even on Friday, when Peter Sagan openly stated his feelings on the longest stage – “It’s a little boring” – most of the talk was about what is coming up on the cobbled stage to Roubaix tomorrow.
Of course, there is the stage from Dreux to Amiens and another chance for the sprinters but let’s consider the scenario of GC at the moment with GVA leading G, with pavé on the menu – the main course of this opening stanza of racing at the Tour in 2018.
The rider in second place overall after seven stages is Geraint Thomas who is six second shy of Greg Van Avermaet’s leading time. The Belgian picked up a three-second bonus in yesterday’s stage and increased his advantage but the Welshman has also collected a couple of extra seconds during the first week. These gains are part of what the organisers have called the ‘Bonus Point’, where the first three riders over a line near the finish can shave time off their overall deficit: three, two or one second, respectively.
In the opening three days of the Tour, three men were awarded the yellow jersey: Fernando Gaviria, Peter Sagan and then Van Avermaet. The expectation is that it’ll stay with GVA after stage eight, and probably even after stage nine.
The BMC Racing rider has won Paris-Roubaix before, so we know he’s going to be a pivotal figure on Sunday but it’s the most likely stage before the mountains where a change in leadership will occur.
Thomas has his eye on the GC lead and although his main role with Team Sky this year is to support Chris Froome, there are signs that he wouldn’t mind getting bit of personal glory too.
“It’d be nice if I was in yellow,” said G yesterday. But, he said, that’s not entirely the reason that he has collected some time at the Bonus Point.
“It’s just being at the front and seeing the opportunity really,” when I asked if it those gains were part of the team strategy or not. “If no one’s going to go, it may as well be me.”
To date, Thomas has won one stage of the Tour – the opening stage last year – and worn the yellow jersey for a few days. He is another example of a pursuiter who has turned himself into a GC rider, just as he said he would a few years ago, after fulfilling his track obligations with a gold medal winning ride at the London Olympics.
He is also a rider who has excelled in the Classics before with 2014 a stand-out April for him: eighth in the Ronde van Vlaanderen and seventh in Paris-Roubaix the next weekend. That was when he was still undergoing his transformation from track rider to GC specialist.
How different is it going to be on the pavé now that he’s light and climbing well enough to be a serious contender for the Tour de France should things falter with Team Sky’s plan-A? How are the sensations from when he was ‘a Classics riders’ versus now, as a GC rider?
“It is a bit different, just the accelerations in the bunch,” he said yesterday. “Now, when you’re always fighting for the wheel and out of corners and stuff, you do feel like you’re a bit different to what it used to be like. But yeah, it’s still doable, obviously.”
G may have slipped a little further behind GVA in stage seven but there’s a few stages to be contested before the rest day and a long transfer to the Alps and another stint in yellow could be “doable” for the Welshman. Don’t expect it to happen on Saturday but Sunday is another race all together, one that is highly anticipated and most likely to shake things up.
– By Rob Arnold