Although Thomas was able to cut the deficit to Julian Alaphilippe in the yellow jersey on Sunday, Thibaut Pinot picked up significant time over the weekend and Thomas has twice seen his rivals leave him behind as he admitted he was not feeling 100 per cent.
But as riders enjoyed a rest day on Monday, Thomas said: “Obviously on the Tourmalet I wasn’t feeling 100 per cent but it was more just a fuelling thing over a few days rather than anything else. Yesterday I finished really strongly so it’s not an issue.”
Among the riders to get away from Thomas on both of the previous two stages was his young Ineos team-mate Egan Bernal, and after Sunday’s Stage 15 Thomas said he was between “a rock and a hard place” as he could not make a late move himself without helping Alaphilippe close down on the Colombian.
But the Welshman played down any concerns about their status as co-leaders and said he had told Bernal to ride his own race on the Prat d’Albis due to concerns over his own condition.
“We stick together,” he said. “Yesterday I said on the radio I didn’t feel great coming into the last climb, but as it turned out I did feel great at the top.
“The main thing is going into the Alps I feel motivated to try and finish this Tour off well.
“It’s been a slightly up and down race compared to last year but the main thing is I finish strong and I’m itching to go a lot better there.”
Without Pinot emerging as the strongest man on the climbs, he looks like the man to beat in the Alps but 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.”
This year’s Tour feels like the most open in years, in large part because Ineos – formerly Team Sky – have not been able to dominate their rivals in the way they did in winning six of the previous seven editions.
But team principal Sir Dave Brailsford, so accustomed to being in control, insisted that he was enjoying the tactical battle as Alaphilippe’s unexpected presence in the yellow jersey changes the dynamics.
“Nobody is really controlling the race as such,” he said. “It’s way more exciting but it’s more like chess in another sense.
“It’s brilliant fun. We’ve sat here on the second day of a Grand Tour so many times and people say we’ve closed the race down and it’s not been exciting.
“That’s not been the case this time. It’s fun to be involved in one of most exciting editions in a long time.”
It was a menacing day at the Tour de France as UAE Team Emirates’ Dan Martin battled what he described as one of the toughest Tour stages he has ever faced.
The peloton knew it was all to play for on the fifteenth stage, but with four categorised climbs to contend with, they knew it was also going to be a brutal stage; and that it was. The attacking intent of all teams was evident from the off, and as the 36-man breakaway came over the first climb, Martin held a comfortable position.
But with climbs coming thick and fast, a number of riders attacked and those with weary legs were soon dropped. Martin looked to attack one of the smaller breakaway groups as he began to ascend the final climb, but the sheer incline proved too much.
Simon Yates, of Mitchelton Scott, produced a solo breakaway effort on the final climb to take home the stage win, with Martin finishing 3:38” behind the winner in 21st. Martin now sits in 15th place (11:39”) in the General Classification while team-mate Fabio Aru occupies 17th place (14:15”), behind the GC leader Julian Alaphilippe.
Martin said: “It was a brutal out there today. We expected a big group to go early, and after the disappointment of yesterday I wanted to be in the race again and enjoy racing.
“I didn’t think they would let me go, so I waited until it was really hard and then made the split on the climb. I’m looking forward to the rest day now. I’ve been riding GC for two weeks and with yesterday not going to plan, I’m just a bit disappointed to be caught when I did.
“It’s probably the hardest stage I have ever done at the Tour de France.”
Aru added: “Today it was a very demanding stage and raced at a very high tempo. I stayed in the main group as long as I could. I’m not 100 per cent yet, but tomorrow we will rest and then we’ll see how to face the last week.”
Riders will welcome the second rest day on Monday, before taking to the saddle for Stage 16, where the sprinters will be back in action as they tackle a flat route through Nimes.
Simon Yates soloed to his second Tour de France victory of the week oblivious to the fireworks behind him as the battle for the yellow jersey exploded on the ramps up to the Prat d’Albis on stage 15.
Thibaut Pinot darted forward for the second day in a row as the first cracks appeared in Julian Alaphilippe’s challenge, while Geraint Thomas again watched his rivals race up the road in front of him.
The only disappointment for fans at the end of 185 kilometres of entertainment was that Monday’s rest day meant they must wait for the next instalment.
In lieu of a race, Monday will instead be a chance to dissect a general classification in which only 39 seconds separate Thomas in second from Emanuel Buchmann in sixth, and in which Alaphilippe seems to accept he may no longer be a factor despite sitting 95 seconds ahead of Thomas.
“It’s not a surprise that I’m starting to struggle,” said the Deceuninck-Quick Step rider, who did not target the Tour this year but will enjoy an 11th day in yellow when the race resumes in Nimes on Tuesday.
If Alaphilippe is fading, Pinot looks the man in form of all the contenders.
Twenty-four hours after his victory on the mighty Tourmalet, the Groupama-FDJ man was able to distance his rivals in the final kilometres and establish himself as the man most likely to end a 34-year wait for a home winner of the Tour.
His first kick with seven kilometres to go put Thomas in trouble. Alaphilippe tried to follow but quickly discovered he could not, while Pinot’s second dig four and half kilometres from the top left Buchmann and Thomas’ Ineos team-mate Egan Bernal behind.
By the line, Pinot had taken 55 seconds out of Thomas to sit only 15 behind. How he must rue the 100 seconds lost to crosswinds on stage 10.Thomas insisted he was feeling much better than he had when he was distanced a day earlier on the Tourmalet, and interestingly seemed to blame the co-leadership at Ineos for putting him in trouble.
“It’s a difficult one, tactics wise – I wanted to go, I had the legs to go but I wasn’t going to chase down Egan Bernal with Alaphilippe on my wheel,” said the Welshman, who gave up 31 seconds to his team-mate.
“I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place, I had to wait a few kilometres and that gave Thibaut Pinot time but at least the legs are responding really well.”
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