Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas has recovered from an “insane” homecoming and is looking forward to challenging on home turf when the Tour of Britain begins on Sunday.
The 32-year-old Welshman was welcomed back to Cardiff by more than 8,000 fans after winning the race to Paris in July and he will be cheered on once more by local supporters when the Tour of Britain’s first stage begins in Pembrey Country Park, Carmarthenshire this weekend.
Thomas told BBC Radio 5 live: “After the support I had, it’ll be nice to race on home roads. The homecoming was insane, I didn’t know what to expect, I was fearing it just being my wife and the dog.
“But it was just phenomenal – if the support at the Tour of Britain is anything like that, it’s going to be a pretty special eight days of racing.”
Thomas expects to spend much of his time on the road in a support role following a hectic August.
“There has been a lot of travelling and a few nights out as well so my form is certainly not what it was in France but I still should have decent enough legs to be in the race and hopefully at the front doing something,” he said.
Beyond Thomas, Team Sky’s line-up includes six-time Grand Tour winner Chris Froome, Ian Stannard, Hollands’ Wout Poels, Lukasz Wisniowski of Poland and Belarusian rider Vasil Kiryienka.
Primoz Roglic (Team LottoNL-Jumbo), Julian Alaphilippe, Maximilian Schachmann and Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floors) are also taking part and have all won Grand Tour stages this year.
The tour ends in Newport, the site of Wales’ National Velodrome, which is set to be renamed in Thomas’ honour.
Frenchman Tony Gallopin used a late break to win stage seven of La Vuelta as Rudy Molard retained the leader’s red jersey.
Gallopin attacked from the leading group with a little over two kilometres of the 185.5km stage from Puerto Lumbreras to Pozo Alcon remaining, and the AG2R La Mondiale rider had enough in reserve to stay away.
Groupama-FDJ’s Molard saw his overall lead grow as Team Sky’s Michal Kwiatkowski lost 25 seconds on the other general classification favourites after crashing on a dusty corner inside the final 10 kilometres of the rolling stage.
Frenchman Molard now leads by 47 seconds from Movistar’s veteran Spaniard Alejandro Valverde, who finished third on the stage as world champion Peter Sagan won the sprint for second place, five seconds behind Gallopin.
Bora-Hansgrohe’s Emanuel Buchmann is a further second back in third overall, with Britain’s Simon Yates of Mitchelton-Scott in fourth place, 51 seconds off red.
Kwiatkowski slips to sixth, 66 seconds down as Gallopin’s win and bonus seconds move him into fifth place.
“When we came on the last straight road, I had a plan that if I have a possibility I try to attack,” Gallopin said. “I found a good moment – and I’m so happy.
“I looked back just before the last corner, maybe 200m, 300m to go and I saw nobody behind me. So I turned and I went full the last straight – I looked back in the final 50m and they were quite far, so I knew that I can win. So it’s fantastic.”
La Vuelta continues on Saturday with a fairly flat 195km stage from Linares to Almaden.
UAE Team Emirates will put out a well-balanced team for two days of racing in Northern Europe as they take on the Brussels Cycling Classic and the GP de Fourmies.
Alongside them will be an Italian quartet of Marco Marcato, Filippo Ganna, Matteo Bono and Oliviero Troia, as well as the team’s Argentinian stagiaire Nicolas Tivani. The team will be guided by experienced sports director, Daniele Righi.
The Brussels Cycling Classic is first up on Saturday, September 1, with the GP de Fourmies taking place the day after.
Commenting on the weekend of racing Righi said: “This weekend we will take on the two races with a team that’s a mix of experience and future talent.
“We are aiming for a result with Kristoff, but it’s also a chance to test young riders like Tivani. The Argentine has the qualities to be the last lead-out man for sprinters, but also one who can win from escapes.”
The Brussels Cycling Classic is a well-established late-season race in Belgium. The flat 201.4km route departs from Jubelpark and loops round the south west of the city before culminating in a fiercely contested sprint finish in Heizel.
The GP de Fourmies, which is held in the north of France, has been running since 2005. This year’s course is 205km long and will, like the Brussels Cycling Classic, end with a bunch sprint finish.