Geraint Thomas admitted he will be disappointed not to win back-to-back Tour de France victories, but insists it’s a healthy rivalry between himself and prospective new champion Egan Bernal.
The defending champion will finish second when the tour finishes in Paris tomorrow – one place behind Bernal, his Team Ineos co-leader.
A year ago, it was Thomas who stood on top of the podium, sipped champagne and did his famous mic drop as the first Welshman to win cycling’s most prestigious race.
This time, it will be Bernal, who will become the first Colombian to the win the tour as well as the youngest rider for 110 years.
“There’s a part of me that would want to be on the top step, but at same time, Egan is an amazing guy, he’s 22, who knows how many he’ll win,” said Thomas.
“The way the team has been it’s just been incredible. And it couldn’t be a nicer guy to win. Egan is truly a genuinely nice, friendly, happy guy pleasure to ride with. And Christ, he’s only 22.
“The thing is, before last year, I think nobody even thought I could podium in the Tour and now, it’s disappointing I didn’t win my second. You have to put it into perspective,” Thomas added.
“For sure, I wanted to win, but I have to be happy that I gave everything I could to be in the best shape here. For one reason or another sometimes it’s not meant to be. I still performed well and feel like I gave everything. The fact that Egan is in front of me makes it okay.”
Bernal retained the overall lead in Saturday’s shortened 20th stage from Albertville.
He finished the stage – won by 2014 champion Vicenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) – in fourth place, alongside Thomas.
The Cardiff rider moved to second overall ahead of Dutchman Steven Kruijswijk (Jumbo-Visma) after Franchman Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick-Step) cracked in the final ascent to the ski resort of Val Thorens.
Sunday’s final stage from Rambouillet to Paris is traditionally a ceremonial ride ending with a contested sprint finish on the Champs-Elyseese.
A year ago, Chris Froome had been the one to back the new king when he supported the stronger new pretender in Thomas. The former Maindy Flyer had won to La Rosière and in yellow the next day, won the Alpe d’Huez stage.
“It must have been harder for Froomey, he had won four already, he was after his fifth last year,” added Thomas. “It just shows we’re very good team. We always do everything we can to win as a team.”
Bernal will win the team’s seventh Tour title assuming he survives the flat stage in Paris tomorrow.
Froome will not be around since he broke his leg in June. Thomas, like Froome suffered this year. He crashed in the Tour de Suisse and could not complete his final Tour preparations. Then, in the Tour, he suffered three minor crashes.
“It’s been an eventful year, a lot of ups and downs, mainly downs. I gave everything I could to try to win and for one reason or another, it didn’t work,” Thomas continued.
“The run up to the Tour wasn’t straight forward. In this Tour, it seemed like Murphy’s Law: what can go wrong, will go wrong. And luckily, it was nothing major, but it’s just little setbacks here and there all the time and the way the tactics worked out at times.”
Thomas renewed his contract and with Bernal, they are due to ride in Ineos’s colours for the foreseeable future. The team will have to manage their ambitions with others like Froome’s.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a rivalry, but yeah we are both ambitious, and we’re at different stages of our career and you know, I’ve ridden and been loyal for so many team-mates before me.
“It was 10 years of doing it when I get my own opportunity to [win the Tour] but at the same time, when someone like Egan who’s in the team as well and he’s riding well, there’s no shame and no harm if I do my bit for him.”